Whatever Happened To Mac Tonight, The '80s McDonald's Mascot?

What happens when you mash up a hit number from Weimar Republic Germany with the world's first computer-generated TV host, and throw in a bizarre dreamscape populated by a lounge lizard man in the moon? Well, you use it to advertise one of the world's largest fast-food chains, that's what. Huh? When did this happen? If you're young enough not to remember, let us introduce you to the lunatic legend of the one and only Mac Tonight, a short-lived Mickey D's mascot that makes Grimace, the Hamburglar, and the rest of the McDonaldland bunch seem positively normal by comparison. Well, a little more normal, at least.

To answer your question as to when this took place, it's a long-ago time called the 1980s. As to the why, according to MentalFloss, one of McDonald's ad agency execs had a passion for the song "Mack the Knife." This cheery little number about a serial slasher made its debut in a 1928 German opera and became popular again in the 1950s as a hit for singer Bobby Darin. The song, and the name, were kind of grafted onto a concept borrowed from part-time Coke pitchman Max Headroom to come up with Mac Tonight, a moon-headed crooner who always wore his sunglasses at night (since in his world it was always night). The point of the Mac Tonight campaign was evidently to reinforce the idea that Mickey D's was a cool place to hang out in the wee hours, and to boost evening sales.

Why Mac Tonight disappeared

MentalFloss reveals that the Mac Tonight ad campaign, which went nationwide in 1987, was a huge hit. Mac spawned a line of Happy Meal toys, and there was even talk that he might replace Ronald. Unfortunately for Mac, his reign as heir to the McDonald's mascot throne was short-lived due to a lawsuit filed by the heirs of Bobby Darin. Although Darin hadn't penned the original song from which Mac took his name and which he'd perform (with, needless to say, an entirely new set of lyrics), his heirs claimed that McDonald's had appropriated the late singer's performance style, and in 1989 filed suit for $10 million in damages. While the suit ultimately went nowhere, it did manage to stall out the ad campaign for a few years. McDonald's did bring Mac back for a brief run in the '90s, but times had moved on, and he was no longer as popular as he'd been during the previous decade.

Mac Tonight was revived for a 2007 ad campaign in Southeast Asia, but it's unlikely we'll see him again in the U.S. due to a rather disturbing controversy detailed by Salon. It seems poor Mac unwittingly inspired an internet spinoff called "Moon Man" who's been co-opted by the alt-right. Mac's look-alike is now associated with racism and homophobia and has been classified as a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League — an ignominious end indeed for what had once been one of fast food's most endearing mascots.