Did Pop Rocks And Soda Really Lead To A Gruesome Death?

Pop Rocks, Coca-Cola, Life cereal, and the violent death of one young child actor. At first glance, this seems like nonsense, the lead-up to a tasteless example of dark humor. But these are actually the key components of an urban legend that haunted school playgrounds and online forums for many years.

According to Thrillist, the legend goes that John Gilchrist, the young actor who played "Little Mikey" in a classic 1970s Life cereal commercial, had died from rather messy complications after consuming a few bags of Pop Rocks and more than a couple of bottles of Coke. As reports of Little Mikey's stomach (or in some cases, head) exploding became the subject of twisted playground gossip, people called the Gilchrist house with messages of consolation or attacked General Foods with scathing phone calls demanding the "dangerous" candy be removed from shelves. 

As Snopes reports, this urban legend was, of course, completely fake. Gilchrist was not only alive in 1979, when the rumor was started, but he wasn't even the first person to have been a supposed victim of the popping candy. Perhaps Little Mikey was chosen simply because it would make the rumor all the wilder and get people talking about it more. After all, you'd probably be a little more curious to read up if that cute kid from the Life cereal commercial died than little Johnny's cousin's friend.

But what exactly makes Pop Rocks and Coke such a "dangerous" combination to begin with?

Pop Rocks' design makes it a fizzy candy

The marketing tactic around Pop Rocks is simple: It's the candy that makes your mouth fizz. You sprinkle some on your tongue, and you instantly get that "popping" sensation. This is because, Discover Magazine tells us, Pop Rocks are essentially pockets of carbon dioxide encased under pressure in a sugary, crystalline hard candy. In layman's terms, just as cracking open a can of soda gets that classic popping sound as the seal is broken, as the sugary candy around the gas breaks, the CO2 escapes. When you dump a packet of Pop Rocks into a bottle of soda, the carbonation in the soda reacts with the carbon dioxide in the candy, causing a messy chain reaction.

But what happens if you were to drink soda and Pop Rocks together? According to The Daily Meal, should you be bold enough to risk it, the worst outcome is you getting a stomachache if you consume too much. There's absolutely no risk of you becoming the next "Little Mikey."

That isn't to say that some bizarre deaths involving Coke aren't unheard of. According to Forbes, a man in China supposedly died in 2021 from drinking Coca-Cola too fast, leading to a gas buildup in his intestines which pushed the CO2 into a vein and ultimately starved his liver of oxygen. While it wasn't as outrageous as the Pop Rocks urban legend, it still goes to show that it's best to keep your soda and candy intake moderated.