The Pizza Hut Commercial You Didn't Know Mikhail Gorbachev Was In

Time lists it as one of the "Top Ten Embarrassing Celebrity Commercials" – up there with Orson Welles peddling Japan's G&G Whiskey, or a then-unknown Keanu Reeves setting a table with Kellogg's Corn Flakes. Thrillist considers it one of the "Most Bizarre Celebrity Endorsements of All Time" – along with legendary boxer Muhammad Ali selling D-Con Roach Traps and classic cartoon family "The Flintstones" endorsing cigarettes. And while you may not agree with those assessments, there is little doubt that footage of the former and last leader of the Soviet Union appearing in a Pizza Hut commercial is about as jarring as it gets.

The ad, which ran in 1997, shows Gorbachev walking in the snow towards a Pizza Hut restaurant in Moscow with his granddaughter. When he walks in, diners notice him and begin a loud debate about his legacy, which up to his death remained favorable in the West where he is seen as a statesman that brought about the end of the Cold War. But Gorbachev is a controversial figure in Russia, where some consider him a traitor and blame him for the breakup of the Soviet Union, per The New York Times. In the end, the only thing diners can agree on is the pizza, and they are heard cheering the former leader as the spot comes to a close, with sweeping views of Red Square.

Pizza Hut wasn't Gorbachev's first commercial appearance

While Foreign Policy calls the ad a professional landmark for all those who were involved in its conception and its shooting, the publication also points out that the commercial shows Mikhail Gorbachev himself at the nadir of his political career. He was reportedly forced to live on a pension worth less than $2 a month, trying to make a living in a troubled economy. And while he could have chosen to cut loose and move west, the former Soviet leader had dreams and wanted to fight for reform. So he chose to stay in the Russian Federation. But to do this, he needed funding.

It might come as a surprise to know that the Pizza Hut commercial wasn't the first piece of advertising Gorbachev had appeared. Per UPI, he had already been in a print spot for Apple computers which ran in 1994. He collected no fees for that Apple ad, which was done to benefit Green Cross International, an environmental agency, and the print spot ran in just three publications, all of which were published in Germany. At the time it was said that Gorbachev could only appear in ads outside of Russia because he was deeply disliked or seen as a political has-been.

Gorbachev's talent fee for the Pizza Hut ad is unknown

The former Soviet leader had his reasons for taking the job when Pizza Hut came knocking. As Mikhail Gorbachev explained to The New York Times in 1997, six years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, "I don't get support from the state. If you look at the foundations in Germany or France, the state finances them, they find sponsors. Here, we don't have any of that. Sponsors can be found. There were some, but on the next day after meeting with me they were summoned to the presidential headquarters to fix their brains."

But while he might have needed the cash, Gorbachev still had some clout. So there were conditions before the ad could be filmed. Per Foreign Policy, he needed to be on board with the script, and he wouldn't take a bite out of the pizza on camera. His granddaughter Anastasia Virganskaya, who appeared with him, eventually ate what was put in front of her. While Gorbachev's talent fee for that spot remains a secret, Foreign Policy posits that even today, it could still be one of the highest in advertising history.