Last week we decided to put out a special Michael Jackson issue. It should be popping up on newsstands right about now. I never thought I’d have a conversation with ex-Pepsi-CEO Roger Enrico about commercials the company made in the mid-80s, but there we were.
In the beginning, being in a soda-pop commercial wasn’t really something the world’s most-famous musician wanted to do—go figure. But that was just about the time Jackson was going back on tour with his brothers, and he wanted to make sure the reunion was a success, for his brothers’ sake. Since Jackson was so worried about being in a TV commercial at the height of his stardom, Pepsi wound up showing very little of him in the ad. I’d never really thought about it before, but going back and watching the commercial now, it’s obvious. When Jackson decided to let Pepsi use the tune to Billie Jean, says Enrico, “I thought this is huge. The $5 million we’re paying him might be worth it.”
The thing that struck me the most in Enrico’s stories, though, as well as those told by others, was how modest and human Jackson seemed. One day, Enrico was speaking with Jackson on the phone. Jackson had to go do something else and said he’d call Enrico back a couple hours later. When he did, he said, “Mr. Enrico, this is Michael Jackson, the person you spoke to earlier.” As Enrico put it: “He was that kind of guy.”
Another example: after Jackson’s hair caught on fire during a commercial filming, he and Enrico went to the burn hospital in Los Angeles where Jackson had been treated to make a donation. The two were waiting in the wings of the stage, when Jackson turned to Enrico and “said the most amazing thing ever. He said, Do you get nervous at these things, too? There were 50 people out there, and he’s used to be being in front of thousands. Still, he was nervous.”