JC: “Alright, so one of the most common and commonly repeated commercials on television when I was a child, in the 1970s, was a commercial for Life Cereal, in which three boys are depicted, basically at table height. And the first two boys are clearly friends, and a little older. And one of them asks the other, ‘what’s this stuff.’ And the other kid says, ‘dumb cereal, is supposed to be good for you’ (dismissively). And the one kid says, ‘well, you try it.’ And the other kid says, ‘nah, I’m not gonna try it, you try it.’ And then one kid says, ‘yeah, let’s get Mikey. He won’t eat it, he hates everything,’ his little brother. They slide the bowl of cereal over to his little brother, and he just starts chomping it down, just like shoveling spoonfuls of it into his mouth. And then the kid who’s basically trying to punish his brother and get out of eating the cereal says, ‘He likes it! Hey Mikey!’ So Mikey, even though it wasn’t a common name, became a thing we said like all the time.
“And then we heard, maybe ten years later, that Mikey died from, um, eating Pop Rocks and drinking soda. Yeah, it was a shame. And it was one of those stories that, like, came both with people who would say, like, “I know somebody who knows somebody” or whatever attestations, and it also came, like, pre-marked as fake. But then there’d be like weird spin-offs, like ‘it wasn’t really Mikey but it was this other kid’ or, like, the actual urban legend-ness of it didn’t die, it was a real weird vibe. There was a fear underlying it, that this would happen to you. And I think at some point Pop Rocks stopped being sold for a while, and so we attributed it to the death of various children. Like some marketing decision a candy manufacturer makes turns out to be, ‘they’re killing children with Pop-Rocks and Soda!’ The Pop Rocks and soda challenge wiped out a whole generation of Midwestern boys. Yeah we all tried it. Dude, when Pop Rocks were around we put them in everything, of people’s unsuspectingly. Put them in their cereal, you’d put them on your tongue and have to like go to class with it and not open your mouth and have to let the stuff come out your nose and that was really awful. Um, yeah, Pop Rocks… the candy of death.”
So, did you have any other traditions you did involving Pop Rocks?
JC: “I mean, not really? I mean we poured them in people’s food at lunch and stuff. So we definitely messed with people with them. And we tried various things. We all, like, threw a handful of Pop Rocks in and then, like, took a swig of Mountain Dee or whatever… Mello Yello, just to see what would happen.”
Was the messing with people, was it limited to high school or middle school, or did it continue through college?
JC: “Ohh, it totally continued through college. You have to remember, our college coincided– our college years coincided with the great sort of peak in American prank phone calling culture. Like, the Prank Yankers show was on television with puppets reenacting prank phone calls. And, like, people thought this was the peak of humor. So we messed with a lot of people.”
JC grew up in Ohio. He remembers the commercial because he watched a lot of television as a child. The urban legend about Mikey and the other shenanigans involving Pop Rocks, from JC’s description, were just part of the middle American zeitgeist during the 1980s and early 1990s. The legend has no particular significance to him, other than as a memory.
The story of Mikey (or some other kid) dying from eating Pop Rocks and drinking soda is an urban legend which would be told in many situations.
The story of Mikey dying has variations involving other kids, but generally involves the same story: a kid eats Pop Rocks and drinks soda, and the combination causes his stomach to inflate, somehow killing him. Among JC’s circle, the story was entirely recognized as fake, to the point where they fearlessly tried the combination which allegedly killed Mikey. It may have been the type of story to scare older, more gullible people while younger people either knew better or did not care.