Whitley has always loved the humor of the late comedian Andy Kaufman, who once put a gun to his head and told his audience he would shoot himself if they didn’t laugh at his jokes (you can imagine the forced guffaws that resulted from this). He also once took his entire Carnegie Hall audience out for milk and cookies after his show.
When he was dying from lung cancer in 1984, and being pushed around in a wheelchair, a lot of people assumed it was just another Kaufman joke.
In "The Christmas Spirits," a book Whitley published this year, he tells the story of Dickens’ "Christmas Carol" in modern terms, by having the ghost of Christmas past show up in the protagonist’s life as a homeless man.
When he was walking out of the grocery store one morning a few weeks ago, Whitley passed a homeless man who said to him, "I’m Andy." He didn’t catch a glimpse of his face, but he thought it was so strange that he told me about it.
As I so often seem to do, I put the pieces together. "That was the ghost of Andy Kaufman," I said. He knows about ‘The Christmas Spirits,’ so he thought he’d tease you by appearing as a homeless man."
That evening, my interpretation was validated: There, on TV, was the film "Man On the Moon," in which Jim Carrey plays Kaufman.
There’s a persistent rumor that Andy is still alive, but I think he’s a ghost, walking around and having fun with the people who remember him. Maybe if Whitley sees him again, they can go out for milk and cookies together.