When a deceased person of note leaves his or her heirs a trove of work, posthumous publication is often tricky ground. Of course, some make their wishes quite clear; Willa Cather’s letters were published this year only because her will, expressly forbidding that very action, expired. There are also those instances in which a work the artist found unworthy of release should be fair game for later publication, as was the case for Truman Capote’s first novel, long thought lost.
But sometimes, the intention is explicit in the other direction, as is the case for Andy Kaufman, who had a successful comedy and acting career in shows like Taxi and Saturday Night Live—before his early death in 1984—but never put out an album. Until now, that is. On July 16, the first Andy Kaufman album, Andy and His Grandmother, will arrive in stores, about 30 years after its creator’s death (and 35 years after it was recorded).
And, says Lynne Margulies, who was Kaufman’s partner*, that was what he wanted.
“When he was sick he made me promise to do everything I could to get everything I could out into the world,” Margulies tells TIME. “I know [the album] would make him so happy.”
The material that became Andy and His Grandmother came from more than 80 hours of microcassette recordings that Kaufman made in the late ’70s. Kaufman was inspired by Steve Allen’s and Jerry Lewis’ records of prank phone calls, and wanted to record his own gags; he also recorded snippets of ideas that never made it into a full joke. But, all along, he imagined the recordings would end up on an album. In 1979, he stopped recording—Margulies says he just moved on to other projects—but he never gave up on the idea. After he died, she carried the tapes from house to house, from storage unit to storage unit, waiting to do something with them. “I would see the tapes and go oh shoot,” she says. “It’s such a relief to have [made the album], just for Andy’s sake.”
After the publicity that came from 1999’s Man on the Moon, starring Jim Carrey as Kaufman, Margulies eventually (in 2009) published a book of letters Kaufman had received; her publisher put her in touch with record label Drag City. They brought Vernon Chatman, who tells TIME that he’s a fan of Kaufman’s, to produce the album, whittling down the tapes to a workable length. Chatman says there were points on the tapes at which it was clear Kaufman intended to add things like sound effects, so those were added, and SNL‘s Bill Hader stepped in with narration to tie it together.
“Someone told me yesterday that his 10-year-old son has now discovered Andy,” says Margulies, who’s happy that the album will allow new and old fans alike to “keep the fires burning.” Plus, those Andy Kaufman mega-fans who still believe he faked his death will get some new fodder to keep hope alive: toward the end of the album, Kaufman talks about exactly that.
“That’s something Bob [Zmuda, Kaufman’s friend] and I have been telling people for years and not everyone believes us,” says Margulies, “but there it is, on tape.”
[Correction: An earlier version of this article identified Margulies as the arbiter of Kaufman’s estate; though she remained in possession of his tapes, she was not the arbiter.]