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Paul is Dead: How the Internet Fueled The Beatles Conspiracy Theory

Christian Cawley 24-04-2015

“I am alive and well and unconcerned about the rumors of my death. But if I were dead, I would be the last to know.” – Paul McCartney, 1969.


One day in 1966, a world famous rock musician tragically died. His fellow band members were beside themselves with grief, but cared for their fans enough to hire a replacement, a musician – or actor – who would be made up and receive plastic surgery in order to look like the late singer. Then, for the remainder of the band’s career, guilty at what they had agreed to, the group would weave clues into their songs for only the most dogged fans to uncover, and lead them to the truth.

This is the nucleus of the “Paul is Dead” myth, an urban legend concerning the covered-up death of Paul McCartney, one that drifted harmlessly around during the late 1960s, saw a brief resurgence in popularity at the end of The Beatles’ career as a group, and then went to sleep for years until the tale – in a revised form – appeared on the Internet.

Is there any truth to the story? Let’s find out.

Wait, Paul McCartney is an Imposter?!

Well, not quite. While the roots of the story are unknown, its proliferation can certainly be attributed to American radio DJ Russ Gibb. During the summer of 1969 and following the release of The Beatles’ final recording, Abbey Road, Gibb received an on-air phone call claiming that Paul McCartney was dead (Gibb went on to produce a radio documentary called The Beatle Plot).

Following this, a list of clues was published in The Michigan Daily on October 14th, 1969, alleging that album covers from Rubber Soul onwards contain clues to the so-called death of James Paul McCartney (that guy that Kanye West fans have never heard of These Kanye Fans Don't Know Who Paul McCartney Is, And That's Okay Kanye West and Sir Paul McCartney collaborated on a new track. You'll totally believe what happened next. Read More ).



A few days later, when another New York DJ Roby Yonge embarked on a late-night rant on WABC-AM on October 21st, 1969, the station was hit with a deluge of telephone calls, and soon newspapers around the world were reporting the claims, which had already spread across university campuses in North America.

For a long time, the theory was forgotten, considered in the same amused tones as Elvis working in the local chip shop or the moon landings being faked. But, like both of these phenomena, digital technology would eventually bring “Paul is Dead” back to life.

It doesn’t take long to find websites publishing photographic comparisons of the pre-1966 Paul McCartney with the alleged replacement in later years, although most of the so-called comparisons are based on badly applied forensic principles and doctored photographs.


However, when applied by professionals, facial analysis of various McCartney photos do reveal a definite difference in the pre-1966 and post-1967 incarnations. This study was performed by Francesco Gavazzeni and Gabriella Carlesi for the Italian edition of Wired; scans are available to read online.

While the original batch of sites seem to have been lost to time and removed from the free hosting of yesteryear (such as Geocities) new ones have come along to replace them. One site, www.ispauldead.com, features a detailed look at all of the album cover clues, while invanddis.proboards.com offers believers and skeptics alike the chance to discuss and learn more about the theory.

The Clues to Paul’s “Death”

Proponents of the urban myth – which has become so well-known that it is has been parodied in television and books as well as music by other groups – base their evidence on a set of clues hidden in The Beatles’ songs and album artwork. These range from details in album covers to a perceived change in appearance for McCartney and beyond, as illustrated in this video.

Perhaps most famous is the Abbey Road album cover (one of the many Beatles LPs now available on iTunes Apple Releases 13 Remastered Beatles Albums for 50th US Anniversary In celebration of the of the 50th anniversary of the The Beatles' arrival in the U.S., Apple just released the North American editions of over a dozen albums available digitally for the first time. Read More ), which features the group crossing Abbey Road in London. John Lennon appears all in white, like a cleric; Ringo Starr is dressed all in black, like an undertaker; at the back of the group, George Harrison is dressed in denim, perhaps as a grave digger; and in the middle, Paul McCartney is barefoot, wearing an old suit. Which, if you hadn’t already guessed, could be construed as a corpse.


What The Beatles Said

In an interview with Playboy magazine in 1980, Lennon remarked: “Some people like ping-pong, other people like digging over graves. Some people will do anything rather than be here now.”

It’s clear to see The Beatles and their associates took a dim view of the so-called death; barely surprising, given that they had lost their manager Brian Epstein around the same time that Paul McCartney was alleged to have died. It’s worth remembering that origins of the myth dated back to a car crash involving McCartney’s car in early 1967 – an event that lead The Beatles star to appear in newspapers to convince the worried fans and public that he was still alive.

Those that believe in the body-swapping scenario refuse to accept any explanation from former members of The Beatles. When asked for his opinion in 1969, Ringo Starr said: “I’m not going to say anything because nobody believes me when I do.”



LIFE magazine actually attempted to track down Paul McCartney, who had retired to his Scottish farm for several months in late 1969. He had been aware of the growing storm, but after the previous incident had decided to avoid the press for fear of simply fueling the story. It is also likely that the stay at his remote home was a result of The Beatles’ split, which wouldn’t be announced for several more months. The team from LIFE was initially met with anger, but McCartney soon gave them an interview.

McCartney revealed how disappointed he felt about the conspiracy theorists. “The people who are making up these rumors should look to themselves a little more. There is not enough time in life. They should worry about themselves instead of worrying whether I am dead or not.”

The Sinister Side of “Paul is Dead”

Of course, Paul McCartney is alive and well and is the same man who trod the boards in Hamburg in 1960. If there was a game, however, an added layer to the Beatles’ work that saw them embrace other mediums and avenues such as music, films, poetry, books, and art, then the proliferation of an infamous fictional scandal that was covered up would be perfect for capturing the imaginations of their fans. It is possible that this is the case, but none of The Beatles has ever admitted anything to date.

The reason for this could be the very real tragedy of the mass slaughter of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and other affluent Americans on the nights of August 9th and 10th, 1969 by the cultist “Family” of Charles Manson in San Francisco, California. Attempting to spark a Black versus White race war, Manson called the impending catastrophe Helter Skelter, the title of a Beatles track from 1968’s The White Album. Manson would later claim that The Beatles were directly instructing him to commit his crimes through coded messages in their songs. Charles Manson was sentenced to life imprisonment.

If The Beatles had formulated the “Paul is Dead” myth and all of the associated clues, there is no way in which they would be able to admit to this in light of a madman attributing his plan of mass murder to their records.


John Lennon believed that, “Manson was just an extreme version of the people who came up with the ‘Paul is Dead’ thing or who figured out that the initials to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds were LSD and concluded I was writing about acid.”

Down the Rabbit Hole

Unbelievably, “Paul is Dead” isn’t even the pinnacle of bizarre beliefs associated with The Beatles. Along with the suggestion that a Canadian won a Paul McCartney lookalike competition and was recruited as his replacement, there is the equally barmy plot which suggests that ALL of The Beatles were, in fact, replaced.


Because The Beatles never existed. No, really.

This plot goes beyond claiming that The Beatles had an army of duplicates, replacements if necessary, who had their own parallel careers entertaining teenage girls and making public appearances. Replacement/clone theories are common in the world of conspiracy theories, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see this introduced into the “Paul is Dead” world.

After all, The Beatles are still widely loved more than 40 years after they split up. They’re a religion for some people, and all religions have their extremists. Over the years, some have even attributed a “deathbed confession” to the late George Harrison, which claims to include the details surrounding Paul’s death and the recruitment of William Campbell as his replacement. Widely debunked, this statement forms the backbone of a movie that claims to be a mockumentary, Paul McCartney Really Is Dead: The Last Testament of George Harrison.

Researchers have spent years poring over every interview, photo, and concert looking for the magic “answer” to the Paul is Dead mystery, sadly in vain. Perhaps you can do better? Spotify is the place to start, as you’ll find some interviews and demo tapes Spotify Music Streaming: The Unofficial Guide Spotify is the biggest music streaming service around. If you're not sure how to use it, this guide will walk you through the service, as well as offer some crucial top tips. Read More (McCartney, Starr, Yoko Ono Lennon and Olivia Harrison have so far resisted allowing official Beatles releases on Spotify).

The Truth: Beatles Die, But Paul is Live

The nonsense surrounding the “Paul is Dead” myth also detracts from the real tragedy that was the murder of John Lennon in the lobby of the Dakota Apartment Building in New York on December 8th, 1980 by a lone individual, Mark David Chapman. He continues to serve a life sentence years after the term handed down to him ended, and he has been denied parole on numerous occasions.

George Harrison was also the subject of an attack by a lone individual, inside his home in Henley-on-Thames on New Year’s Eve, 1999. Harrison was stabbed repeatedly, and his lung was punctured. The attacker, Michael Abram, was later acquitted on grounds of insanity, having claimed that he was possessed by George Harrison and had been sent by God to kill him. Harrison survived the attack, but died from lung cancer on November 29th, 2001, aged 58.


McCartney, meanwhile, continues to poke fun at the rumor, most famously with his concert album, Paul is Live, released in 1993, which features the musician replicating the Abbey Road album cover with a number of “secret” clues as to his continued existence.

Having said that, an interview with Heather Mills in 2007 suggests that McCartney’s second wife discovered the man she married isn’t quite who she thought he was.

You can, of course, read into that what you will…

Paul Is Dead in 2015

It’s remarkable that a rumor that has its roots in an event in 1966 has snowballed into something so big that, even now, McCartney is still being asked about it.

And the hoaxes keep on coming. In March 2015, fake news sites Faux News: 10 Best Websites for Fake News & Satire Read More claimed that Ringo Starr had admitted that Paul McCartney really did die in 1966, and that the group had used a replacement for the rest of The Beatles’ recordings. Of course, this was picked up by a few legitimate websites, but soon debunked.

We doubt this will be the last time the Internet breathes more life into “Paul Is Dead,” but what do you think of it all? Is this the first time you have heard this rumor? Or do you recall your first exposure to it? Perhaps you have compelling evidence that the real Paul McCartney died almost 50 years ago?

Let’s talk about it in the comments. Meanwhile, if you’ve been spooked by all of this, spend some time enjoying The Beatles 10 Websites For The Beatles Fan & His Beatlemania Read More .

Image Credits: Paul McCartney DFree / Shutterstock.com, Beatles stamps Sergey Goryachev / Shutterstock.com, Lennon art Emka74 / Shutterstock.com

Related topics: Documentary, Internet, Music Album.

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  1. brian
    October 6, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    Wondering if Paul? would take a DNA test to prove his is who he says he is?

    I mean, I would be willing................why not...........maybe someone can grab a cup from the fellow and test it and compare to a relative............"I mean, why not"

    I must say that some of the information leaves me to wonder............................so put an end to it

    must say that even when Paul? and Lennon were not in the best of friendships, nothing was said of this by John you know......................just put an end to it you know

  2. Neweyboy
    January 15, 2016 at 8:52 am

    It is a strange theory and really quite unbelievable but something happened to the Beatles around late 1966 - early 1967. They stopped touring, started to part ways as it were and the brilliant music writing between Lennon and McCartney stopped. They started writing their own music much more on their own. They began to stop being a team or a band but four individuals. Some say they were growing up but this is 4 guys who knew each other as young teenagers and gave so much to get to the top. Look at the Stones - they are still a band and touring to this day. Weird so it does make me wonder. Also the McCartney of today looks terrible. Old, haggard and hardly any resemblance to the young Paul. Ringo is still Ringo however. I remember watching the Imagine movie and Lennon says something about the fab four and Harrison corrects him and says the fab three. Lennon responds with something like oh yes the fab three. Rather strange comment!

    • Forest Rogers
      February 28, 2016 at 4:03 am

      Just looked up that comment about the fab 3 on youtube.. Very very interesting I must say. Have you ever seen the beatles 1988 rock and roll hall of fame induction? George says we all "loved" Paul. You would have to see it to know how interesting that comment was. You can't help but consider that John and George were pissed at Paul for being the one to leave the Beatles officially first. Wasn't he the the first beatle to decide to leave the band? I may be wrong on that but that's 50/50. But still a very weird and questionable comment thank you for mentioning that!

  3. Forest
    January 6, 2016 at 4:04 am

    Kind of reminds you of Heather Mills right? Because she definitely got paid off to keep her mouth shut after she went on public tv. That Heather Mills video solidifies to me that this little "rumor" is a lot bigger and deeper than what a majority of what most conformists want to imagine.

    • Christian Cawley
      January 6, 2016 at 8:51 am

      I think that even in those moments when you think "you know, really, it must be nonsense, because someone would have said something by now" that clip is always at the back of your mind.

      Just something else to keep it intriguing, I guess!

      • Forest Rogers
        February 28, 2016 at 4:22 am

        Have you ever thought about going to England/ Europe and asking to interview big name people on the subject that Paul is Dead? Imagine if someone got ahold of Heather Mills and breakthrough questions were answered. She's just one person but I feel like if a team of researchers were there to find the people involved or have any information on the subject, one hell of a documentary would be born. If people saw on tv actual interviews from big name people, people in the US would hop on board like it when it was first brought up. Look at the OJ documentaries, STILL people like me, 21 years old I have to question whether or not he did it because people have brought to life these unanswered questions. And interviews play a big part in depicting whether or not he did it. Imagine if this rumor about paul is proved. The question is who is going to go the distance to get the real information to the people with footage of real interviews with the people that matter most to the subject? Big names will be what sell. There has been a lot of b.s. documentaries that "question" whether or not he is dead. What if there is one that chooses a side and sticks to its guns and goes full force til an answer is found. No one has seen one of those. And it's only a matter of time until someone pulls it off. Do you want to be apart of that group? If someone can dig into the government about JFK, Sir Paul
        McCartney can be dug into deep aswell. Making this website shows me you took the time to let people know that something isn't right. But how many websites are there on this subject? So many "question" the rumor and I guess it's considered a "blog" when people choose a side.

        Something to think about though

        • Christian Cawley
          February 28, 2016 at 4:32 pm

          Well I'm already in the UK :)

          My feeling is that if there is a story, it's one that is being tightly controlled.

      • Forest Rogers
        February 28, 2016 at 11:14 pm

        Are you from the UK? If so, is this conspiracy a joke to people from where you are? Do a lot more people believe something is up? Like the US the story is considered to be in the funny papers pretty much. To a majority at least. Just wondered if it's the same there.

        • Christian Cawley
          February 29, 2016 at 8:18 am

          Yes, totally British. Of the people I've talked to about this, half think it's barmy, and the majority of the other half think it's interesting but unlikely. The remainders share a distrust of every establishment, and think it possible, but no more than that.

          Funny old tale.

        • Forest Rogers
          March 3, 2016 at 10:57 pm

          Yeah here it's one of those stories where most people who even hear about the rumor think it's a hoax for the beatles to make more money. Capitalistic minded I guess.. lol. But one question, have you seen the Imagine: John Lennon 75th Birthday Concert? Ringo Starr sings a song called I'm The Greatest and a line in particular to this subject he says "Yes, my name is billy shears, You know it has been for so many years. Now i'm only thirty-two".

          Kind of a suspicious song choice in my opinion to sing for John's 75th birthday. I'm pretty sure John wrote the song and decided Ringo was the better to sing it. But just thought it was another one of those clues STILL being dragged on to this day.

        • Christian Cawley
          March 4, 2016 at 1:27 pm

          Oh if we've learned anything since the Beatles split, it's that they love perpetuating this story!

  4. Forest
    January 6, 2016 at 3:59 am

    Another thing to think about also, John Lennon and George Harrison were already giant stars to the public after the band broke up. If the "Paul is Dead" rumor was purely about money, why did these guys come out with a bunch of songs relating to the paul is dead theory? These guys could fart and make it a song and still have a million people buy their records. I know everyone was pissed at Paul at the time, but why make these references that the real paul is dead in their songs? And they are blatant words that Paul truly isn't the same person. You don't even have to look hard for clues you just hear them saying it in these songs. I really don't think they kept it up just to sell their records. Also, I think Ringo is getting paid off by someone related to Paul because you got these guys like George and John that aren't really afraid to hide the truth and then there's Ringo, who keeps his mouth shut and really hasn't said anything about it. Weird... You would think he would throw in some clues about Paul because I bet he had and still does have a hard time getting his records off the shelves.

  5. Forest
    January 6, 2016 at 3:48 am

    "Paul" and Ringo will never, ever come out with the truth. First of all, even if they did, would the public believe it? Or would it just be another one of those crazy rumors for us "whackos" to build on. Second of all, their reputation as a band would be completely trashed by society today. Do you really think the rock n roll hall of famers would want to do that? I take everything I hear by a grain of salt but you would just have to imagine that even if the rumor is true, the remaining members will take the secret with them to their graves. Me personally, I do believe the Paul today is not the Paul back in the day. If Paul wants to act like he's so tired of hearing the stupid rumors, why doesn't he just have a dna test? Oh wait, suspiciously there is no record of Paul in any hospital. Hmm... Maybe it is true and Paul, like the rest of us, knows its a money maker to keep up the "rumor". What would you do if you got away with a master plan? Tell the world you imposed a dead man and probably get murdered by some crazy nut? Or go along with it by acting like its "just a rumor". I don't know, things to think about. But I had to put in my 2 cents because this actually is a very interesting subject to get high too.

    Thanks, Forest

  6. Anonymous
    July 7, 2015 at 4:43 am

    I remember when I heard the "paul is a dead man miss him miss him" back masking.

  7. Leanne
    April 27, 2015 at 12:00 am

    I remember my dad telling me about this theory when I first began to get interested in The Beatles. After that, I did a bunch of research. Blew my mind. Still don't know what to think.

    • Christian Cawley
      April 30, 2015 at 2:44 pm

      Keep an open mind, Leanne, that's what I do!

  8. Tony
    April 26, 2015 at 6:37 am

    Paul id dead!!! Are you guys blind?! That is not the same person.

    • Christian Cawley
      April 26, 2015 at 10:37 am

      We're not here to make a judgment either way on that, Tony.

      • john
        December 15, 2015 at 7:50 pm

        "Of course, Paul McCartney is alive and well and is the same man who trod the boards in Hamburg in 1960."

        Not making a judgement? You did when you made this statement which shows that you were already biased when you wrote this piece.


        • Christian Cawley
          December 15, 2015 at 8:07 pm

          "an interview with Heather Mills in 2007 suggests that McCartney’s second wife discovered the man she married isn’t quite who she thought he was."

          Read the article, get a grip.

        • john
          December 15, 2015 at 10:31 pm

          I read it. FYI, the first report of a fatality involving a member of the band was reported in Sept. 1966 during the airing of the first Monkees TV show. It was reported in NY.

    • Christian Cawley
      June 1, 2015 at 12:22 pm

      You're right. He's dead. My dad is dead too, he looks nothing like the guy he was in 1966.

      Or did he just get old?


  9. Ignacio Curiel
    April 25, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    Thank you! I wish I were more fluent on english and be able to write about the many reasons why I loved this, but I'll just leave it like this: Thank you for taking your time and write about something that we will not necessarily "make use of". Great story.

  10. Dave Parrack
    April 25, 2015 at 9:06 am

    While I don't believe Paul was replaced, there is definitely something weird about all this, and I remember having my mind blown when I first jumped down this particular rabbit hole.

    The imagery on the album covers is too obvious to be purely coincidental, so I'm convinced The Beatles were trolling us all before trolling was really even a thing. That's right, The Beatles invented trolling. You heard it here first.

  11. Ryan Dube
    April 25, 2015 at 2:42 am

    Thorough coverage of this conspiracy theory Christian - loved it!

  12. ReadandShare
    April 24, 2015 at 11:05 pm

    Slow day at MUO??

    • Dave Parrack
      April 25, 2015 at 8:57 am

      No, not at all. This was a carefully thought-out and well-researched piece looking at a conspiracy theory that has entertained and enthralled lots of people online.