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Death of Little Mikey

Claim:   Little Mikey of LIFE cereal fame died from the explosive effects of mixing Pop Rocks candy with soda pop.


Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 1994]

A kid ate 6 bags of pop rocks at a party. He then proceeded to drink a 6-pack of Pepsi. The two substances combined in his stomach and exploded, killing him horribly. That's why pop rocks were taken off the market in the early eighties.

Origins:   Invented in 1956 by General Foods research scientist William A. Mitchell and introduced to the general public in 1975, these fruit-flavored nuggets delighted kids with their "fizzle." Small amounts of carbonation were released when the candy was placed in the mouth, causing a mild "exploding" Cartoon of the legend sensation and resulting in a satisfying "sizzling" noise kids loved.

Though the confection had been extensively tested and found safe, the combustive candy still alarmed residents in Seattle. The Food and Drug Administration set up a telephone hotline there to assure anxious parents that the fizzing candy would not cause children to choke.

Nevertheless, among kids, wild stories about the perils of eating Pop Rocks abounded. (Kids love ghastly rumors about candy (e.g., that Bubble Yum contains spiders or their eggs.)

Mixing the candy with carbonated drinks would cause the stomach to explode, was the popular whisper. Further, according to playground lore, an overly-cute kid who achieved fame in LIFE cereal commercials had died of this. Why Little Mikey, of all people? We can only guess, but it's plausible the name of the product played at least some part in the linking of this particular child to the rumor, resulting in "Mikey got a bang out of LIFE." However, beyond that, urban legends require victims who are known yet anonymous — the ubiquitous friends of a friend — to lend them a touch of credible realism without allowing for the easy verification of their details. Little Mikey was a kid known to all other children by virtue of his famous television commercial, yet he
was still relatively anonymous — few people (adults included) knew his real name, and his non-appearance in any public role subsequent to his well known LIFE commercial could therefore plausibly be attributed to his untimely demise. (Contrary to the rumor, John Gilchrist, the lad who played Mikey, not only survived his childhood unexploded, but is now an advertising-account manager for a New York radio station. And no, that's not him in the 2000 LIFE commercial; that's Jimmy Starace.)

General Foods was battling "exploded kid" rumors as early as 1979, a scant four years after the product's introduction. They took out full-page ads in 45 major publications, wrote some 50,000 letters to school principals around the country, and sent the confection's inventor on the road to explain to all and sundry that Pop Rocks generate less gas than half a can of soda and ingesting them could induce nothing worse in the human body than a hearty, non-life-threatening belch. Despite all these measures, the rumors abound even to this day.

The company stopped marketing Pop Rocks around 1983, and this is often pointed to as "proof" that the candy was so harmful it had to be pulled from the shelves. What's less known is that Kraft bought the rights to the product from General Foods in 1985 and then marketed it as "Action Candy" through a company named Carbonated Candy. Pop Rocks are now back out in the open, though, and are again marketed under their original name by Pop Rocks, Inc.

In 2006, the "exploded kid" legend was revived, albeit with a newer candy. Rumors that year told of a Brazilian child who died after ingesting a combination of Coca-Cola and Mentos. It too was fiction.

Barbara "get a bang out of LIFE" Mikkelson

Update:   In July 2001, a northern California couple announced they were suing Baskin-Robbins after their five-year-old daughter swallowed Pop Rocks contained in the ice cream chain's "Shrek Swirl" flavor. The parents maintain that their daughter "woke up from her nap screaming in pain" and was taken to a medical facility where "doctors had to insert a tube into her stomach to remove the air."

Sightings:   In the 1998 slasher classic Urban Legend, the folklore professor invites a co-ed to eat Pop Rocks and then down a soda. She refuses to do it because she knows it kills people, including "that kid in the cereal commercial."

Last updated:   8 June 2011

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    Booth, Claire.   "Fizzing Sherbert Triggers Lawsuit."
    Contra Costa Times.   4 July 2001.

    Booth, Claire.   "Baskin-Robbins Lawsuit Puts Family in Dis-Flavor."
    The [Bergen County] Record.   19 July 2001   (p. A12)

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Choking Doberman.
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1984.   ISBN 0-393-30321-7   (pp. 103-106).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Vanishing Hitchhiker.
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1981.   ISBN 0-393-95169-3   (p. 89).

    de Vos, Gail.   Tales, Rumors and Gossip.
    Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, 1996.   ISBN 1-56308-190-3   (p. 150).

    Morgan, Hal and Kerry Tucker.   Rumor!
    New York: Penguin Books, 1984.   ISBN 0-14-007036-2   (pp. 68-69).

    Sicherman, Al.   "Why Isn't the Real Mikey in the New Commercial?"
    [Minneapolis] Star Tribune.   31 January 2000   (p. E1).

    Unger, Harold.   "Psst - Heard About Pop Rocks?"
    Canadian Business.   June 1979   (p. 39).

    Library of Curious and Unusual Facts: Manias and Delusions.
    Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1992.   ISBN 0-8094-7731-9   (p. 20).

Also told in:

    The Big Book of Urban Legends.
    New York: Paradox Press, 1994.   ISBN 1-56389-165-4   (pp. 108-109).