The latest viral video sweeping the Web isn't a celebrity wardrobe malfunction or Britain's Got Talent star of the moment. It's the gruesome, never-before-seen footage of Michael Jackson's head catching on fire during filming of his 1984 Pepsi commercial.
Jackson suffered severe burns after a pyrotechnics accident set his hair and scalp on fire. Still photos of the accident have been seen before, but the video on Us Weekly's Web site hadn't been released before. A representative for the magazine wouldn't comment on where the video came from after so many years.
In the video, things are normal on the first few takes of the sequence. But then you see a flash, and Jackson is seen dancing down some stairs as the flames grow and flicker around his head. When he spins, the flames appear to go out. People on the set tackle him to extinguish the fire. When Jackson emerges from the pile of people trying to help him, the top of his head is bald.
The accident, witnessed by thousands of stunned fans at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, came at the height of Jackson's fame, about a year after the release of his best-selling Thriller album. It marked what would be the beginning of serious, lifelong pain for Jackson, who had been treated for painkiller addiction and has been described by relatives and friends as being hooked on pain medication at the time of his death last month at age 50.
In his autobiography, Moonwalk, he described the cause of the accident as "stupidity, pure and simple." He wrote: "… bombs went off on either side of my head, and the sparks set my hair on fire. I was dancing down this ramp and turning around, spinning, not knowing I was on fire. Suddenly I felt my hands reflexively go to my head in an attempt to smother the flames."
As a result of the accident, Pepsi gave Jackson $1.5 million, which he donated to a burn center named after him.