On this day in auto history - September 23rd

Thu 23rd Sep 2021

It was on this day in 1969 that the Northern Star newspaper of Illinois University instigated one of the greatest ever ‘urban legends’ by running a story which claimed that Beatles superstar Paul McCartney had secretly died in a car crash some years earlier and had been replaced by a lookalike.

The origins of the myth centred on a high-profile crash involving McCartney’s heavily customised Mini Cooper on the M1 two years earlier.

The badly damaged vehicle - driven by his friend Mohammed Hadjij at the time - was highly recognisable to passing travellers, leading to erroneous rumours that McCartney had been killed in the incident when, in fact, he hadn’t even been travelling in the vehicle.

The Northern Star conspiracy theory revisited the incident and claimed that McCartney HAD indeed died in the accident. The story went that the remaining members of the Beatles had decided the band must go on, so they secretly hired a lookalike replacement instead!

Amazingly, the ‘Paul is dead’ story gained widespread traction - particularly across American universities and radio stations - so much so that the Beatles press office felt the need to officially deny the rumours, dismissing them as “a load of old rubbish”.

However, it was only when McCartney himself granted Life magazine a contemporary feature interview some weeks later that the rumours finally began to dissipate.

One year after the Beatles bitter break-up in 1970, John Lennon again referred to the myth in the lyrics of his 1971 track How Do You Sleep? (a vitriolic attack on McCartney), saying…"Those freaks was right when they said that you was dead”. Meanwhile, McCartney himself parodied the rumours with the title and cover of his 1993 album ‘Paul Is Live’.