Pop Rocks Death Unwrapped
by Laurnie Wilson
Did Pop Rocks Kill Mikey?
If you grew up in the 70’s, then you’re already well acquainted with this little rumor: Adorable Mikey from the LIFE cereal commercials died after eating pop rocks and washing it down with soda. Sound familiar? The accusation seems pretty reasonable, right? Pop Rocks fizz, sodas fizz, so if you put the two together, you’re bound to have one outrageously deathly fizz explosion, right?
Now let’s step back for a minute and take a look at what’s actually in Pop Rocks. You have sugar, lactose, corn syrup, and flavoring. That seems benign. And they just so happen to fizz because they release small amounts of carbon dioxide when you put them in your mouth. Nevertheless, people have always speculated about the safety of this weirdly sizzling sweet.
Despite the fact that Pop Rocks underwent extensive testing before being put on the market, parents in Seattle were apparently so worried about their children choking on the candy that the FDA had to set up a hotline there to reassure them of this product’s safety.
Yet, kids have a quite a way with words. And, once again, the root of this rumor about little Mikey’s death lies in the realm of playground gossip. In 1979, about five years after the invention of Pop Rocks, kids started speculating. This rumor emerged and had staying power for a couple of reasons. 1) People were already skeptical of this fizzing candy. 2) After the LIFE commercial, little Mikey, whose real name is John Gilchrist, never reappeared on TV. That left a lot of people wondering what actually happened to him. The idea that he could have died from this Pop Rocks and soda combination was not entirely out of left field.
The scope of this rumor led General Foods to take out full-page ads in major publications, as well as write letters to thousands of principles in an effort to defend the good name of their product. But when the company stopped marketing Pop Rocks in 1983, the public took that as confirmation that all of the death speculation was true.
In short, little Mikey didn’t die from eating Pop Rocks and drinking soda, and neither did anyone else. It’s just not scientifically possible. Mikey grew up and now works in film. And the reason General Mills stopped marketing the brand in 1983? As it turns out, it was bought by another company and marketed under a different name for a few years. This was clearly one playground rumor that got way out of hand. So relax! Today, you can eat as many Pop Rocks as you want, knowing that they’re not going to cause you to explode.
Since now you know for sure that Pop Rocks are perfectly safe to eat (even with soda), grab a bunch and enjoy the fizzle and pop!