Andy Kaufman’s death from lung cancer at the age of 35 shocked and stunned many. His apparently sudden, dramatic and final departure from public life on May 16, 1984, was met with sorrow and disbelief. In keeping with his persona and outrageous performance antics, the disbelief surrounding Andy’s death took on a life of its own, perpetuating his legacy in a unique way. Speculation surrounding the possibility that Kaufman staged his own death continues today as a popular legend.
Kaufman’s family, however, wanted to preserve Andy’s legacy in a more concrete way. His father, Stanley Kaufman, first considered a university scholarship that would bear Andy Kaufman’s name and encourage promising performing arts students. This was eventually deemed unsatisfactory because, while supporting students in the performing arts, such a scholarship would benefit only a few students, and lack the visibility that was desired for both the honoree and the recipients.
The idea for an annual talent award came to fruition in 2004 with input from Andy’s lifelong manager George Shapiro. The inaugural award show took place on November 11, 2004 at Caroline’s Comedy Club in New York, and was hosted by actor/comedian and long-time Kaufman fan Richard Belzer.