The bigger the name, the weirder the theory.
Paul McCartney became a household name when he rose to prominence as part of the Beatles in the 1960s, and his star power has held steady ever since the band broke up in 1970. But some conspiracy theorists believe that the Paul we know and love today is not Paul at all, but "Faul," or a faux Paul McCartney.
According to a longstanding theory, the real Paul McCartney isn't the septuagenarian still tearing up stages – he actually died in the early hours of November 9th, 1966, after his car skidded off an icy road and crashed into a pole.
Conspiracy theorists claim that John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr worried about how his death might impact the Beatles' huge commercial success, so they covered up his death by replacing him with a lookalike named Billy Shears, who looked, acted and even sounded the part.
Extreme theorists have pointed to discrepancies in older photos of Paul and more recent photos, claiming that details like chin shape or the placement of his ears are dead giveaways. "Faul's" head size and shape are also supposedly different from McCartney's. Some theorists even go as far as to say Shears was an orphan who had once won a McCartney lookalike competition.
And so, the story goes, the Beatles were able to continue on with their hit-making career undisturbed, their big secret well hidden from the world.
But, according to McCartney truthers, Lennon, Harrison and Starr began to feel guilty about their cover-up, so they began leaving clues that hinted at McCartney's untimely death via their album covers and even in their songs themselves.
The cover for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, released in 1967, is supposedly a big clue, with theorists asserting that the image of a whole cadre of the band's heroes is not just a gathering, but a funeral. They point to the freshly dug earth in the foreground, the younger Beatles all dressed in black, and a patch of yellow flowers prominently displayed in the front — could it be a nod to the left-handed bassist?
Fans who believed in the theory started looking for hints in the band's songs as well, and found quite a few eerie coincidences.
Perhaps one of the best-known is their 1968 track "Revolution #9," which, if played backward, has one part that sounds a lot like a violent car crash and a voice that can be made out to be saying, "He hit a pole! Better get him to see a surgeon."
The supposed audio clues didn't stop there. Play "I'm So Tired" backwards, and you get a recorded phrase that sounds kind of like, "Paul is dead, miss him, miss him." Slow down "Strawberry Fields Forever" and you can hear John saying, "I buried Paul." (In interviews, however, Lennon has explained that the phrase was actually "cranberry sauce.")
Then there's the famous cover for Abbey Road, in which all four bandmates are crossing the street toward their studio. At first glance, the image looks harmless. Conspiracy theorists, however, are convinced that the album is a huge confirmation that McCartney is, in fact, dead.
In the picture, John is wearing all white, just like a priest; Ringo's all dressed in black like a pallbearer; and George is bringing up the rear in a blue-jean getup, the gravedigger of the group.
And Paul? The supposedly deceased Beatle walks shoeless across the road, theorists say, because he's dead.
Yet another example that theorists point to is the significance of the black walrus that appears on the cover of their 1967 album Magical Mystery Tour. According to these theorists, the black walrus symbolizes death in certain Scandinavian cultures, and McCartney was undoubtedly in that animal costume.
And in a truly bizarre coincidence – or was it? – on a later Beatles release, the White Album, Lennon sings on one track, "Glass Onion": "Well here's another clue for you all – the walrus was Paul!"
As for Paul – or is it "Faul"? – the rumors don't really bother him. "To the people's minds who prefer to think of them as rumors, then I'm not going to interfere," he told Life magazine in 1969. "I'm not going to spoil their fantasy."