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Jim Carrey wigs out
By BRUCE KIRKLAND - Toronto Sun
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Jim Carrey as Tony Clifton/Andy Kaufman

HOLLYWOOD -- Andy Kaufman is still goofing us from the grave. And Jim Carrey is not amused.

Or is he?

In what was either a disgusting debacle or a carefully planned (if poorly executed) publicity stunt on Saturday, Carrey was involved in a fight with a man posing as one of Kaufman's characters, lounge lizard Tony Clifton.

The fight broke out at a press conference for Man On The Moon, in which Carrey stars as both the late comic Kaufman and his dark alter ego, Clifton, infamous for both insults and assaults.

The bizarre incident reminded witnesses of some of Kaufman's own stunts. The comic, best known for playing the immigrant Latka Gravas on TV's Taxi, was 35 when he died of a rare form of lung cancer in 1984.

Hollywood is now abuzz over Saturday's incident. Robin Williams figures it was planned by Carrey and Bob Zmuda, Kaufman's ex-partner, friend and now biographer, whom Williams knows as his Comic Relief producer.

"Bullshit!" he said when I told him yesterday that Carrey denies staging the incident and ended up near tears later. "He's an actor -- a great actor," Williams added, smiling.

But Carrey is adamant. "Oh really? Well, it wasn't!" Carrey said bluntly when I challenged him and said I thought it looked like it was staged. "The difference between knowing and thinking are two different worlds, aren't they?"

Here is what happened Saturday afternoon in the ballroom at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills in front of 75 media members and astonished officials from Universal Pictures.

Carrey was 10 minutes into the press conference, talking seriously, cracking a few tame jokes and acting perfectly normal.

In walked a man dressed as Tony Clifton, in his bad wig, black moustache, dark sunglasses and ugly blue tux with the frilly shirt. He arrived with a woman dressed as a hooker. Ranting like a maniac, Clifton insulted Carrey, called him "an Oscar wannabe," spray-painted "Man On Th ..." on a door, and claimed credit for the film.

The Canadian comic then slapped Clifton in the face. The two men fought, wrestling each other onto a table -- breaking several tape recorders sitting there for the press conference -- before crashing to the floor.

Carrey jumped up, ran out of the room, came back with a pitcher of iced tea and dumped it over Tony Clifton's head. More screaming. Carrey ran out of the room.

Clifton then upzipped his pants, pulled out a large fake penis and pumped water on torn pages from Zmuda's Kaufman biography, Andy Kaufman Revealed! He denounced Zmuda, Carrey and Universal Pictures and stormed out.

It took Danny DeVito, Carrey's co-star, 35 minutes to talk Carrey into coming back to complete his press conference, during which he nearly cried and talked about Kaufman as "a wild animal" who inhabits both himself and Zmuda.

"You get kind of sucked into this thing. It's hard to know what is real and what isn't real half the time," Carrey said.

"Bob Zmuda, who was playing Tony Clifton here, has been writing books and doing this character everywhere. I was not approving (other recent 'Clifton incidents' have been blamed on Carrey himself, not Zmuda). He seems to want to step out and be Andy. This whole thing is so blurred. I think it's time for him to move on."

Zmuda later denied that he planned the incident or that he played Clifton, although he has in the past. "Is it real or not real, that is always the Kaufmanesque question," Zmuda evasively told The Sun.

Five people, including Zmuda's brother, have played Clifton in public, according to George Shapiro, Kaufman's former agent and the film's producer. He said "Tony" is unpredictable.

Shapiro said the incident reminded him of his own experience with Clifton when Kaufman was alive. His own reaction was "a turning of the stomach, because there's no controlling him -- but I felt good because I was watching it from afar this time."

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