The Death of Little Mikey by Pop Rocks and Soda

Classic Urban Legend Debunked

Teen girl sipping red soda
Eric Raptosh Photography/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

Did Little Mikey from the Life cereal commercial die by eating pop rocks and soda? Explore this urban legend.

The Urban Legend - Life Cereal's Little Mikey Suffers Strange Death

Here's the legend described by one person who heard it: 

In the Life cereal television ads, two boys are reluctant to try the cereal because their mother said it would be good for them. They decide to give it to Mikey because "He hates everything." But Little Mikey takes a bite and then enthusiastically enjoys the cereal.

The rumor on the playground at the time was that Little Mikey ate a whole bag of Pop Rocks candy, which are little candies that crackled on your tongue and popped in your mouth, and drank a can of Coke quickly. Supposedly, Mikey's stomach exploded from the combination of the fatal candy and soda mix and he died.

Needless to say, most of my friends were scared to eat the stuff ever again. But some of the braver kids tried pop rocks and soda. The only thing that exploded on them were the contents of their stomachs all over the place (i.e., they puked).

Roots of the Legend

Few Baby Boomers can forget those ubiquitous TV commercials of the early '70s and the immortal catchphrase, "Mikey likes it"?

Likewise, the original roll-out of Pop Rocks candy by General Mills a few years later was unforgettable. The one-of-a-kind confection, which looked like gravel and crackled on your tongue, proved to be wildly popular. That is, until around 1977 when rumors began circulating to the effect that kids had actually died after eating them, either from suffocation or a burst stomach.

Mikey, Pop Rocks, and Soda

One version, which said the doomed children had imbibed a carbonated soft drink at the same time, became particularly virulent and by 1979 had morphed into the claim that it happened to one specific child, the actor who had played Little Mikey in the Life cereal commercials.

Mind you, none of the variants of this story were true. No one was ever injured, let alone killed, by consuming Pop Rocks, with or without soda. The fact is, a packet of the candy contains no more carbon dioxide than a soft drink. It might make you burp, at worst.

Did the Rumor Kill Pop Rocks But Not Mikey?

Unfortunately, the boy who played Little Mikey at the age of three never achieved much fame outside of those commercials and, by the late '70s, had seemingly vanished from sight. This gave the rumor legs, and sales began to suffer.

Despite an effort to dispel the falsehood by taking out full-page ads in dozens of newspapers across the country and mailing explanatory letters to 50,000 school principals, misinformation prevailed, and General Foods was forced to pull Pop Rocks from the market in 1980. The rumor died with the candy.

Pop Rocks enjoyed a resurgence five years later when the patent changed hands, and have been off and on the market since as different companies bought and sold the rights.

Proof positive that Pop Rocks and Coke didn't kill Little Mikey is the fact that his real-life alter ego, John Gilchrist, survived to adulthood and a career as an ad executive in the broadcast industry. He was too young at age three and a half to remember anything about filming the Life cereal commercial.

The Urban Legend of Pop Rocks and Mikey Lives On

Mikey and Pop Rocks have seemingly entered into the realm of a classic urban legend and references live on in film, television, and music, including a mention in the film "Urban Legend" in 1999, in the lyrics in a song in "Shrek: The Musical," and many more.

The MythBusters television show explored whether Pop Rocks and soda could prove fatal and disproved the myth.

Sources and Further Reading:

Exploding Stomachs: Myths and Facts: Did a Handful of Pop Rocks and a Chaser of Soda Kill Little Mikey?  Montreal Gazette, 14 September 1997

Pop Rocks - Fizzy 1970s Candy Makes a Comeback in the U.S.  Christian Science Monitor, 12 December 1996

"The Choking Doberman and Other "New" Urban Legends" by Jan Harold Brunvand (W.W. Norton: 1984)