The Infamous Michael Jackson Pepsi Commercial That Landed Him In The Hospital

Michael Jackson was one of many iconic singers who starred in a Pepsi commercial, putting himself in the same camp as superstars like Prince, Beyonce, Ray Charles, and Doja Cat. But no other star had such a bad experience during the filming of their Pepsi commercial. On January 27, 1984, things went very wrong on the Pepsi set, and the pop star ended up in the hospital with severe burns. 

They were filming at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles and Jackson was on stage singing the Pepsi version of "Billie Jean," and during the sixth take, Jackson was too close to the pyrotechnics when they went off and his hair caught fire as he continued dancing. Margaret Watkins, who was one of 3,000 people in the audience for the taping, told The New York Times at the time about what she saw happen: "There were canisters that let off smoke, they pop and they smoke. [...] He grabbed his head and they put water on him and took him off stage.”

Another witness said that Jackson seemed to try and play off what had happened. "He was wonderful. He reassured people even as he was being taken away on a stretcher," as reported by the BBC

Michael Jackson settled with Pepsi over the accident

Michael Jackson was first taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, and then taken to Brotman Memorial Hospital Burn Center in Culver City. Plastic surgeon Dr. Steve Hoefflin updated reporters on the situation, saying: "Michael is quite shocked. He's fortunate that there were no injuries to his face," (per The Washington Post). Jackson ended up settling out of court with Pepsi for $1.5 million. He donated the money to Brotman Medical Center, and they changed the name to the Michael Jackson Burn Center, which sadly had to close a few years later.

Medical records purportedly from Jackson's stay said he had a "palm-sized area of 2nd and small area of 3rd degree burn" on his head and that he was hospitalized for "moderate to severe pain." Us Weekly published the first images from the Pepsi accident in 2009 after the singer's death, and footage of it is available on YouTube, but note that it is fairly distressing to watch. Pepsi and Jackson decided at the time to not release the footage given its upsetting nature.

Painkillers for the Pepsi commercial burns started Michael Jackson's addiction

At 25 when the accident happened, Michael Jackson was, arguably, one of the planet's biggest pop stars. His hit solo album "Thriller" had come out, and a month after it happened, he won eight Grammys — the first artist to ever win that many at one show. He filmed another commercial for the brand's "New Generation" ad campaign as a part of his multi-million dollar deal with Pepsi. This one, directed by Bob Giraldi, who also directed Jackson's "Beat It" music video, featured Jackson and his brothers, along with Alfonso Ribeiro playing kid who danced with Jackson. The commercials were a massive hit — seen by nearly everyone in the country.

However, the accident and the ensuing pain that he was in from the burns were what he felt started him on a path of opioid addiction. In 1993, almost 10 years after the injury, he released a statement that said: "I have been undergoing treatment for dependency on pain medication. This medication was initially prescribed to soothe the excruciating pain that I was suffering after recent reconstructive surgery on my scalp," per ABC News.