Fact Check: Steve Martin’s “King Tut” (1978)
Here, line by line, is an analysis of Steve Martin’s “King Tut,” taking into account rigorous research and as many historical King Tut facts as our team of scholars could find.
FACT CHECKING “KING TUT”
Now when he was a young man,
He never thought he’d see
People stand in line to see the boy king.
This one checks out. It is unlikely to the point of impossibility that the historical Tut would have foreseen the traveling exhibit which bore his name.
How’d you get so funky?
Did you do the monkey?
Born in Arizona,
Moved to Babylonia
Our best historical records indicate that Tut neither did the monkey, nor moved to Babylonia, which was hundreds of miles away in present-day Iraq. Little evidence exists the two cultures had much to do with one another until centuries after Tut’s death.
As for being born in Arizona, the less said about this assertion, the better.
Now, if I’d known
They’d line up just to see him,
I’d taken all my money
And bought me a museum.
This lyric moves from statements about Tut to a more personal narrative, about Martin (or more appropriately, his narrator)’s personal investments. Is Martin’s narrator anything less than forthright about the effects of his hypothetical hindsight? We have no reason to believe otherwise.
Buried with a donkey
This is the most exhaustive list of the contents of Tut’s tomb that we could find. Nowhere is mentioned a donkey. Donkeys were, however, originally domesticated in Africa and were present in Ancient Egypt as pack animals.
He’s my favorite honkey!
Taking for granted the narrator’s statement of preference, the race of ancient Egyptians is a hotly contested issue. Egyptian art is stylized enough that it offers little conclusive evidence in any direction. Scholars have argued convincingly both of Tut’s blackness and whiteness, with the most recent consensus being “somewhere in the middle.” Was Tut a honkey? Unlikely, given the context and meaning of the word. We think it best to file this as “undetermined.”
Born in Arizona,
Moved to Babylonia
Once again, the less said about this line the better.
Dancin’ by the Nile,
The ladies love his style,
Rockin’ for a mile
Did the Historical Tut dance by the Nile? While dancing was an important part of Egyptian rites and a significant art form, as with almost every other culture of which we know, prevailing wisdom indicates that dancing was something that Tut was more likely to observe than engage in.
As for ladies loving his style, given the context this line seems to be referencing his method of dance, rather than his manner of dress. In short, we’re calling BS on this.
He ate a crocodile.
Crocodiles did indeed exist in Tut’s Egypt, but were more thought of as a menace to livestock, a danger to humans, or a symbol of power than a source of fresh meat. Our research doesn’t indicate that ANYONE in Ancient Egypt ever at a crocodile, let alone the Boy King (although some were said to wrestle them).
He gave his life for tourism.
This couplet seems to be crossing over into the realm of social criticism, rather than historical reporting. Nonetheless, as a piece of fact it falls somewhat flat. While no one knows for sure, the best forensics available to date indicate that Tut died of an accident, possibly due to complications from a fractured leg. And, while Tut was indeed revered during his life the epithet, “Golden Idol” refers to the Biblical story of the Golden Calf – a standard which is wholly irrelevant to the religion and cosmology of Tut’s Egypt.
But is Martin’s narrator referring instead to Tut the exhibit in the song’s present? Is Tut said to be a “golden idol” to his own contemporaries rather than Tut’s? In this case, a conclusion is best left to the reader. Let us ponder this in light of the claim’s objective falsehood.
He’s an Egyptian.
This is true.
They’re selling you!
This line seems to be in reference to the narrator’s present, in which Tut’s relics were being bandied on display for paying onlookers. By the letter, this one checks out.
Now, when I die,
Now don’t think I’m a nut,
Don’t want no fancy funeral,
Just one like ole king Tut.
While it may indeed be true that Martin’s narrator has little desire for any pomp surrounding his death, is remains that as Pharaoh Tut likely had quite the “fancy funeral.” How do we mark a true claim reliant on a falsehood for support? The laws of logic dictate we determine it false.
He coulda won a Grammy
The first Grammy awards were held on May 4, 1959 in Los Angeles and New York City. Tut died millennia earlier thousands of miles away. Furthermore, we have no evidence that he had recorded nor even played any music. Leaving aside the possibility of a speculative posthumous award, this is a blatant lie.
Buried in his Jammies
As a mummified pharaoh, Tut was a) not buried, but entombed; b) laid to rest not in his pajamas but in several layers of linen wrapping after several weeks of embalming. That doesn’t sound like a comfy set of PJs to you, does it?
Born in Arizona, moved to Babylonia,
He was born in Arizona, got a condo made of stone-a
To reiterate: the assertion that Tut was either born in Arizona or spent and significant period of time in Babylonia is patently absurd.
Did he have a “condo made of stone-a?” Impossible, given that the condominium as a concept is based upon modern property law – an owned apartment with shared common areas owned by an often third-party association. While Tut may have resided in a stone structure, calling it a condo is wildly anachronistic.
So there you have it, Steve Martin’s “King Tut” with every shred of due diligence done! There’s less true than false by a mile on the Nile, but don’t let that hinder your enjoyment of it. One King Tut fact we know is true: he makes for a great tune.