What Really Became Of Mikey, The Life Cereal Commercial Kid?

By Rebeka Knott
John Gilchrist who played “Mikey” on the famed Life cereal commercial; Pop Rocks. Source: (pinterest.com; amazon.com)

In the 1970s, it was one of the most frequently-aired advertisements on TV: the Life cereal "Mikey Likes It" TV commercial. The spot starred a very cute youngster with a round face and freckles named Mikey, who is a picky eater. The commercial spawned the catchphrase "Mikey Likes It," and ran for over 13 years; later, Quaker Oats (the company that makes Life) tried to hawk its product with sequels and remakes. But most curious of all was the story of Mikey -- specifically, the tale that the most famous picky eater in teeveeland had died from consuming a volatile mixture of Pop Rocks and Coca-Cola. If you were a kid in the late '70s or '80s, you no doubt heard this rumor from your peers:

"Remember Mikey, the kid on the Life commercial? He ate Pop Rocks and drank Coke and his stomach exploded. Pop Rocks and Coke will kill you."

The story had the allure of art imitating and then obliterating life: a young boy who is known for a reluctance to try new healthy foods meets a grisly end because he foolishly mixed two volatile junk foods. Mikey was played by an actor named John Gilchrist, and whether he survived the '70s after shooting to fame in the Life cereal "Mikey Likes It" commercial was a hot topic of debate.

In the commercial, it's breakfast time, and Mikey's two older brothers are confronted with a new cereal. They go back and forth about who is going to try it first because it's supposedly healthy, and therefore unappealing. “You try it,” says one, and the other replies, “I’m not going to try it. You try it.” Then they say, “Let’s get Mikey (to try it). He hates everything.” While they are prodding each other and conspiring, little Mikey, played by three-and-a-half-year-old John Gilchrist, digs into the heaping bowl of Life cereal on the table, and clearly enjoys it. His brothers exclaim, “He likes it! Hey, Mikey!” 

It's a classic, unforgettable commercial, albeit one with a dark post-script. Well, maybe. What's the deal -- did John Gilchrist, better known as Mikey, really die in a bizarre junk food accident? Or was it all just one of the greatest urban legends TV commercials have ever known?