It was probably the most bizarre official visit to the White House since Richard Nixon and the King of Rock and Roll famously shook hands. Michael Jackson, the newly crowned King of Pop, and President Ronald Reagan stood together on the White House lawn in front of reporters.
Reagan, who was 73 when Jackson visited him and Nancy, wasn't known for his love of catchy pop hits. So why had he invited Jackson to the White House in 1984? It turns out the two men shared a surprising connection.
Earlier that year, the success of Michael Jackson's album Thriller earned him a huge publicity deal with Pepsi. Jackson was paid $5 million - the most expensive endorsement contract of all time back then - to star in a pair of Pepsi commercials and to feature soft drink ads at his concerts.
But as you might remember, tragedy struck on set of Jackson's iconic Pepsi commercial. The star had been told to stand under fireworks during his dramatic entrance, which set his gelled hair on fire. Jackson kept dancing while his hair was burning, which only made his injuries worse.
Despite a number of surgeries, the third-degree burns on Jackson's head never fully healed, and the star wore a wig for the rest of his life. While he was recovering in the hospital, the musician received a letter from an unlikely source: President Reagan.
It turns out that decades earlier the president had been in much the same situation as Jackson.
Click to the next page to learn about Reagan's on-set accident!
Back in 1939, before Reagan's political career had began, he was still just a Hollywood star known for playing daring leading men. His role as a secret service agent in Secret Service of the Air is a classic example. But an on-set injury from that film troubled the president throughout his life.
Another actor fired a .38 caliber pistol just inches from Reagan's ear, leaving him with tinnitus and hearing loss. Reagan was forced to wear hearing aids later in life, and never forgot the awful accident.
That's why he sent Jackson a letter, telling him he "was pleased to learn that you were not seriously hurt in your recent accident. I know from experience that these things can happen on the set—no matter how much caution is exercised."
The letter was just the start of the president's connection with Jackson, as he invited him to the White House later that year at a special ceremony. Jackson had allowed "Beat It" to be used in public safety announcements about the dangers of drunk driving, and Reagan thanked him with presidential award.
"Well isn’t this a Thriller!” he said at the ceremony, where the musician kept his acceptance speech short and sweet, thanking President Reagan and his wife Nancy. “I was surprised at how shy he is," Reagan wrote in his diary, but he was also impressed that the musician was "using his popularity to influence young people against" drugs and alcohol.
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