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Russ Gibb, the Detroit disc jockey who, nearly 50 years ago, fueled a rumor that had begun weeks earlier that Paul McCartney was dead, has himself died. The longtime local music legend died April 30 in Garden City, Mich. Gibb was 87 and living at a rehab center in nearby Dearborn Heights. His death was reported by the Detroit Free Press.

On October 12, 1969, while on-air at WKNR-FM in Detroit, Gibb took a call from a listener who told him that in “Revolution 9,” a voice says, “Turn me on, dead man.” And it’s a sign that Paul McCartney is dead. Gibb played the song as instructed and his listener phone line lit up with more callers offering clues that indicate that Macca “blew his mind out in a car” accident a few years earlier and was replaced by a lookalike to spare Beatles fans the grief of losing their hero.

The rumors had started with a September 17 article in the college paper at Drake University in Iowa that explored whether McCartney was dead and mentioned the backwards-masked voice on “Strawberry Fields…” and other clues. Two days after Gibbs’ broadcast, a University of Michigan student published a satirical review of Abbey Road that details the clues to McCartney’s demise on the album, a number of which he simply made up. Soon after, they were being picked up by wire services and printed in newspapers across America. On October 19, WKNR devoted a two-hour show to the mystery.

Russ Gibb (center) in 2016 with MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer (left) and “Louder than Love” filmmaker Tony D’Annunzio.

Eventually hundreds of “clues” were “discovered” by fans. The armband Paul wears on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s supposedly reads “OPD” for “officially pronounced dead” (though it actually reads “OPP” for Ottawa Provincial Police and was given to McCartney while on tour in Canada)– just one of the many hints of Paul’s death people read into that cover.

Similarly, the four Beatles striding across the street on Abbey Road represent an undertaker (Ringo in black), gravedigger (George in denim), minister (John in white) and corpse (Paul barefoot and out of step with the others). The license plate of the Volkswagen in the background reads “28 IF,” meaning McCartney would have been age 28 if he’d lived (though he was only 27 at the time).

Gibb ultimately became a significant figure and visionary on the Detroit rock scene. He operated the city’s Grande Ballroom and introduced such area acts as the MC5, Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper to audiences.

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