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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

January 27, 1984

Hello, everyone.

First things first, I want to thank those of you who were there for me and comforted me and my family in the wake of my grandmother's passing.  The support really means the world to me.  With all four of my grandparents now deceased, I think it finally hit me just how much I miss all of them.  It also explains why I chose to post things that I wrote several years ago in this blog over the last three days.  I needed to take the time to grieve, and I just wasn't in the mood to sit down at a computer and type out what I was feeling.  I needed to take the time to rest and reflect.

I am back with the weekly Tuesday Timeline entry however.  And believe me when I say that the subject could be considered a very "hot" topic.  You'll see what I mean in just a few minutes from now.

In the meantime, it is January 27, and we have some historical events and celebrity birthdays to get through first.

1606 - The trial of Guy Fawkes and other conspirators in the "Gunpowder Plot" commences

1785 - The first public university in the United States - The University of Georgia - is established

1880 - Thomas Jefferson receives the patent on the incandescent lamp

1888 - The National Geographic Society is founded in Washington D.C.

1908 - Journalist and publisher William Randolph Hearst, Jr. (d. 1993) is born

1919 - "Alvin and the Chipmunks" creator Ross Bagdasarian (d. 1972) is born in Fresno, California

1921 - Actress Donna Reed (d. 1986) is born in Denison, Iowa

1931 - Author (and creator of Jacob Two-Two) Mordecai Richler (d. 2001) is born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

1944 - The 900-day siege of Leningrad is lifted

1945 - The Red Army liberates the inmates still inside the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp

1967 - Astronauts Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Edward White are killed in a fire during a test of the Apollo 1 spacecraft

1973 - The Vietnam War officially ends with the Paris Peace Accords

1980 - Six American diplomats secretly escape Iran in what would come to be known as the "Canadian Caper"

1996 - Germany's first observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day takes place

2003 - The first selections for the National Recording Registry are announced by the Library of Congress

2010 - "The Catcher in the Rye" author J.D. Salinger dies of natural causes at the age of 91

2013 - In Santa Maria, Brazil, 242 people die in a fire at Kiss Nightclub

And the following famous faces will be frosting cakes today;  James Cromwell, John Witherspoon, Nick Mason, Nedra Talley, Brian Downey, Seth Justman, Tam O'Shaughnessy, Peter Laird, Mimi Rogers, Susanna Thompson, Keith Olbermann, Narciso Rodriguez, Margo Timmins, Mark Moraghan, Bridget Fonda, Alan Cumming, Tricky, Mike Patton, Patton Oswalt, Mark Owen, Josh Randall, Lucy Porter, Jake Pavelka, Rosamund Pike, Davetta Sherwood, and Daisy Lowe.

And now, on with today's date.  I will be the first to admit that I don't really remember this day well at all (I was nearly two and three-quarters when it took place), but it was a date that set the stage for the problems that one entertainer would have until his dying day.

That date is January 27, 1984.

Again, I have very vague memories of the year 1984.  It was the year that I turned three, and admittedly everything before 1986 is one gigantic blur.  But one thing that I do seem to remember was that 1984 seemed to be the year of the soft drink commercials.

Yes, thirty-one years ago, back when people didn't really know about the harmful effects of soda pop on the human body, people all over the world were guzzling down the carbonated beverages that were guaranteed to make you belch at least a couple of times after consumption. 

And certainly, no two companies battled for soda supremacy quite like Pepsi and Coca-Cola.  Sorry Royal Crown, Shasta, and Tab.

During the 1980s, it almost seemed like Coke and Pepsi did everything in their power to try and get consumers to buy their products.  But I think that when it comes to advertising purposes, Pepsi was clearly the winner of the two.   After all, they became known for their "Pepsi Challenge", their commercials appealed to a "new generation", and their commercials featured everyone from Ray Charles and Madonna to the Spice Girls and Britney Spears.  Just have a look at some of the more memorable commercials below.

I suppose looking back on it, Pepsi did seem to be the victor of the "Cola Wars" - at least in the 1980s, anyway.  I don't think consumers really appreciated the "New Coke" scandal of 1985 anyway.

(Just one note:  Pepsi is now third in sales overall behind Coke Classic and Diet Coke.  And, who knew that Diet Coke was considered a separate entity from Coke Classic?  You know, never mind.  I don't even want to try and make sense of it.)

Anyway, back in the 1980s, Pepsi certainly seemed to be the choice of the next generation.  And nobody seemed to deliver that message any clearer than the "King of Pop" himself, Michael Jackson!

Michael Jackson filmed several commercials for the soft drink manufacturer, and Pepsi became a major sponsor of Jackson's world tours until the early 1990s.  And as far back as I can remember, people always loved seeing Michael Jackson in the Pepsi ads.  Even though the commercials were ninety seconds at the longest (can you imagine a television commercial lasting a minute and a half these days), the work that went into them was astounding, and the cost of the commercials to film almost amounted to what a music video would cost.  Just have a look at this ad from 1984 featuring a then 12-year-old Alfonso Ribeiro!

And yes, in 1984, Michael Jackson did film quite a few commercials for Pepsi.  But it was on this date thirty-one years ago that something happened on the set of one of Michael's Pepsi commercials that some say changed the course of his life forever.

On January 27, 1984, Michael Jackson reunited with his brothers (who as all of you know made up the 1970s pop group, The Jackson Five) for a series of Pepsi commercials that would air throughout 1984.  With the first commercial already filmed, a second one was scheduled to film at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.  The set-up was that The Jackson Five would perform on the stage in front of three thousand extras and the song that they would be singing would be a reworking of the song "Billie Jean" - a hit single for Jackson in 1982 - to reflect Pepsi being the choice of the new generation.  It sounds simple enough, right?

As part of the commercial, one of the key scenes was the one where Michael Jackson breaks into the chorus of the commercial jingle.  As he sings, he descended down a flight of stairs while an explosion of pyrotechnics detonated behind him.  This was the end result.

However, there is a sad tale to tell regarding the behind the scenes action of the filming of this commercial.  

On the sixth take of the day, Jackson was doing his dance moves on the stage and was about to descend down the stairs as he did the previous five takes when the pyrotechnics explosion was detonated just a few seconds earlier than the other five.  And Jackson was standing dangerously close to the explosion when it went off. 

So close that his hair actually ignited and was on fire for at least four or five seconds before the fire was put out by crew members.

By the time the fire was put out, Michael Jackson was in absolute pain.  He suffered second and third degree burns on his scalp and face.  His hair had been completely burned off right down to the scalp and according to Jackson's longtime make-up artist Karen Faye, he had to endure painful migraine headaches while he was recovering from the burns.  Because Jackson's face had also been badly burned, Jackson had to undergo some plastic surgery to fix the damage, which included a rhinoplasty surgery.

Pepsi settled out of court, and Jackson was awarded a $1.5 million settlement for his injuries which he donated to the burn unit of the hospital where Jackson was treated.

However, many people argue that the accident during the Pepsi commercial left scars (both physical and psychological) that simply did not heal.  At the time that Jackson filmed the Pepsi commercial, his album "Thriller" was the #1 album for nearly two years straight.  Remember that iconic album cover?

Well, due to his injuries, Jackson had to wait until 1987 to release his next album, "Bad".  Note the difference in Jackson's appearance between 1982 and 1987.

Some would say that the injuries that Jackson endured from that fire helped fuel his addiction to plastic surgery in later years, and certainly from the "Bad" album cover, I can see what they are saying.

And anyone who has sustained severe burns on their body knows first hand how painful the recovery process can be.  While none of us can imagine how much physical pain Jackson went through, some speculate that this accident helped kick off Jackson's well documented addiction to painkillers - which ultimately lead to his death in June 2009 at the age of 50.

It's hard to say exactly what factors lead up to the ultimate passing of "The King of Pop".  But I would say that the Pepsi commercial accident could very well be one major part of where Jackson's problems began.   And it's a real shame.  

1 comment:

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