Best known as the lovable foreigner "Latka Gravis" on the hit sitcom "Taxi," and categorized as a comedian for lack of a more appropriate term or venue, Kaufman had a unique style of performance art that often left his audiences confused, embarrassed, and even angry. Despite all this, Kaufman arguably managed to be extremely entertaining.
Kaufman's on-stage antics included bursting into tearful tirades which segued into soaring conga drum numbers, rolling out a sleeping bag and lying motionless for 20 minutes, inviting audience members to come on stage and touch a boil on his neck, and leading audience members in sing-alongs to songs written for small children. Kaufman was also the first known - and Elvis Presley's acknowledged favorite - Elvis impersonator.
Kaufman did a lengthy stint as a "heel" or bad guy in professional wrestling as the self-proclaimed "Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion," defeating over 400 women. Kaufman eventually endured two piledrivers at the hands of Jerry Lawler, resulting in three days in traction at St. Francis Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
Due to the public's confusion about Kaufman's motives, he was largely forgotten and dismissed upon his untimely death from a rare form of lung cancer in 1984 at the age of 35. When Kaufman announced his illness earlier that year, even his closest friends and immediate family members believed it was a gag - that he was "pulling an Andy." In an Internet Movie Database poll, Kaufman holds the distinction of being the celebrity voted far and away most likely to have faked his own death, beating out Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison, James Dean, and Bruce Lee.
Since the 1999 release of Milos Forman's "Man on the Moon," in which he was portrayed by Jim Carrey, Kaufman's popularity has enjoyed a resurgence among new audiences and original fans.