On 12 October 1969, out of the blue, a Detroit radio station began announcing that Paul McCartney was dead.
The shock claim was picked up by coast-to-coast newspapers and conspiracy theorists, who scoured Beatles lyrics and photographs for “evidence”.
A theory was put together: McCartney had been killed in a car accident three years before (“he blew his mind out in a car”) and was now being impersonated by a look-alike named William Campbell (or William Shears Campbell).
The bizarre “Paul Is Dead” myth crossed the Atlantic, becoming a nightmare for Apple, whose Savile Row offices were besieged by hysterical callers.
The rumour snowballed into a full-blown conspiracy via specious and ingenious interpretations of lyrics and photos, including many supposed signifiers on the sleeve of the Abbey Road LP, such as the parked VW Beetle’s registration plate of ’28IF’ (as in, Paul would have been 28-years-old if he’d lived).
A slew of records were hastily released in the aftermath of the rumours including The Ballad Of Paul by The Mystery Tour (nobody ever admitted to being in that band), Paulbearer by Zacherias & The Tree People, Brother Paul by Billy Shears & The All-Americans, and Dear Paul by Webley Finster, who turned out to actually be Jose Feliciano (his name appeared on the writing credit).
The flurry of cash-in records caused an Apple spokesperson to decry the whole situation as; “Ghoulish – in the worst possible taste. It’s exploitation at its most extreme”.
In reality, Paul was holidaying with Jane Asher on the day his fatal car crash supposedly occurred, but this has never cut much ice with the conspiracy theorists. For them, the story had unstoppable momentum.
Today, all over the internet, the “Paul is dead” conspiracy is discussed with as much vigour as the “hoax” Moon landing and large lizard creatures roaming the White House and Buckingham Palace.