Paul McCartney had to deny rumors he was dead
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Throughout the history of The Beatles, numerous individuals have been referred to as the “fifth Beatle.”
While some of these figures played crucial roles in the band’s success, such as manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin, others were musicians like drummer Pete Best, bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, and keyboardist Billy Preston, who performed with the band at different times.
However, one name that intrigues conspiracy theorists and baffles most Beatles fans is Billy Shears.
To some, Billy Shears was not only the fifth Beatle but also a doppelgänger who replaced a band member without anyone’s knowledge.
Remarkably, 52 years ago today, Paul McCartney had to refute rumors that he was dead.
On October 22, 1969, the Beatles bassist adamantly asserted that he was still alive.
When Apple Records manager Peter Brown reached out to McCartney for a statement to address the rumors, McCartney reportedly responded, “Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
The story began in 1967, claiming McCartney died in a car accident on November 9 the previous year.
According to the conspiracy, The Beatles found a lookalike named Shears, also known as “William Campbell,” an orphan from Edinburgh, to impersonate McCartney and prevent fan disappointment.
Some theories suggested that Shears was planted by MI5, while others believed The Beatles left clues in their songs after McCartney’s alleged death.
When the Abbey Road album was released in September 1969, the cover attracted conspiracy theorists’ attention, who saw it as a funeral procession with each Beatle playing a different role.
Theorists also pointed to the Volkswagen Beetle in the background with the license plate “LMW 28IF” as evidence of McCartney’s death.
The rumor circulated in music circles but gained traction when a student newspaper at Drake University published an article titled “Is Beatle Paul McCartney Dead?” on September 17, 1969.
Later, radio DJ Russ Gibb discussed the rumor on air, and University of Michigan student Fred LaBour wrote a satirical article for The Michigan Daily that fueled the conspiracy theory.
Eventually, the band had to address the matter, with McCartney himself denying the rumor on October 21.
In a subsequent interview with Life magazine, McCartney suggested that the rumor may have started because he had not been in the press much lately.
He added that he was content with his family and would work when necessary, expressing a desire for less fame.
In the end, the rumor did not harm The Beatles’ popularity. As John Lennon predicted, the urban legend boosted Abbey Road sales and previous album sales.
McCartney later poked fun at the rumor by naming his 1993 solo live album “Paul Is Live” and spoofing the iconic Abbey Road cover.