At the height of the war on drugs in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were a plethora of anti-drug public service announcements being made. These ads didn’t pull any punches and many were shockingly blunt when it came to discussing the dangers of using drugs that could kill a person. To get the message across, many of the PSAs featured celebrities in the hopes the videos would be more memorable. Oftentimes cartoon characters were used as many of the PSA’s targeted children who were at risk of falling into the world of narcotics through peer pressure.
The United States Government implemented the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign to get its message across, and it is estimated that it spent nearly $1.4 billion alone on its anti-marijuana campaign, between 1998 and 2006. Similarly, the non-profit group known as the Partnership for a Drug-Free America was formed in 1985 to dissuade youth from trying drugs. Many of the anti-drug ads that we remember to this day were made by this organization. The effectiveness of the ad campaigns by both of these groups has been hotly debated. However, even if they weren’t effective they were at least memorable. Here’s a look at 10 of the most shocking anti-drug public service announcements to feature celebrities.
10. Cartoon All Stars To The Rescue
The dangers of drugs were such a concern that nearly every single cartoon character that was popular in the 1990s had to team up. This PSA was actually a full length, half hour special which starred the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; the Smurfs; Garfield; ALF; Slimer from the Real Ghostbusters; Huey, Dewey and Louie; Alvin and the Chipmunks; the Muppet Babies; Winnie the Pooh and his friends; and even the Looney Tunes.
It tells the story of a kid named Michael who is smoking pot and drinking his father’s beer. When he steals money from his younger sister to support his drug habit, the toys in her room come to life and all the famous cartoon characters work together to help straighten Michael out. The special aired on all the major networks in 1990, and a VHS was distributed at McDonald’s as Ronald McDonald House was the charity responsible for making the special.
9. Pee Wee Herman Warns About The Dangers
This one is quite unsettling. Pee Wee Herman was always upbeat and jovial on his TV show Pee Wee’s Playhouse, but in this anti-drug PSA, Pee Wee is somber and super serious when warning of the dangers of cocaine. It’s not cool or glamorous says Pee Wee, and he warns of how deadly the drug can be even if you try it just once.
This anti-drug PSA was reportedly written, funded and produced by Paul Reubens, as part of a plea bargain pertaining to his arrest for indecent exposure. Reubens would oddly enough go on to play a cocaine dealer in the 2001 film Blow.
8. This Is Your Brain…
It seems that almost everybody remembers this anti-drug PSA featuring Rachel Leigh Cook. She warns of the dangers of heroin and how it can turn your brain into mush. She smashes the pan on the egg to show what will happen when you snort heroin.
But it doesn’t end there. It will also ruin your body, job, finances and your family life. This wasn’t the first brain on drugs anti-drug PSA to make the air, but it is the one most remembered because of Rachel Leigh Cook’s angry freak out. She actually parodied the anti-drug PSA on an episode of Robot Chicken.
7. Endorsement From Celebs Who Passed Away
Celebrity endorsements are used to sell products all the time, so the aim of this anti-drug PSA was to sell the notion of being sober by showing pictures of a whole bunch of famous celebrities who had died from an overdose of drugs.
Photos of musicians and actors like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, John Belushi and River Phoenix were shown in a slideshow along with the dates of their births and deaths. This 1993 anti-drug public service announcement was yet another one created by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America to warn about how deadly using drugs could be.
6. Dealers are Dorks
Don’t give in to peer pressure, and don’t try marijuana. That’s the message from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to little Joey who was being hassled into trying some weed at his school.
Joey gets called a chicken for not taking the joints, but the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles come to the rescue and ask his classmates what Joey should do in this horrible situation. His classmates tell him to talk to a teacher and get out of there! Joey calls the dealer a turkey and walks away. “He’s right. Drug dealers are dorks so don’t even talk to them,” says Donatello.
5. Carroll O’Connor’s Heartbreaking Message
Carroll O’Connor, who played Archie Bunker on All in the Family and Archie’s Place, delivered a message from the heart in this anti-drug public service announcement. O’Connor’s own son died from a suicide linked to drugs, so you could see the pain on his face during this spot when he spoke of the tragedy.
He told viewers how his son Hugh, started taking drugs at 16 years old, and that eventually hallucinations proved to be so overwhelming to him that he could not take it anymore. You could hear the sincerity in his voice as well, as he discussed the dangers of drugs and what it could do to your family.
4. Robocop Wants To Clean Up The Streets
Robocop stars Peter Weller and Nancy Allen reprise their roles as Alex Murphy (aka Robocop) and Anne Lewis respectively, in this anti-drug PSA. Officer Lewis asks Robocop what’s bugging him and he replies: “Drugs bug me.” Weller takes off the Robocop suit so he can be frank.
He warns kids that drugs are everywhere and sometimes even at home. He tells kids to avoid all drugs and that there are no exceptions. Weller says that if they need a place to go they should check out the Boys and Girls Club because it’s a drug-free zone that’s safe for kids.
3. Clint Eastwood… It’s Not Glamorous
This public service announcement from the 1980s is very similar to the Pee Wee Herman spot, and in it Dirty Harry himself, Clint Eastwood also warns about the ever dangerous and deadly crack cocaine.
Who better than a real life bad a** to scare viewers away from what was being called the glamour drug of the 1980s. It features the same lighting and haunting music, too. If you have to die for something, this sure as hell isn’t it, warns Eastwood. The spot ends with the chilling words: “Don’t even try it. The thrill can kill.” Message received.
2. Super Mario… It Will Send You To Hell
Legendary professional wrestler Captain Lou Albano, played Super Mario in the live action interstitials of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show cartoon. He also was the voice in the animated segments of the program. Here he reprises his role as the 8-bit plumber to warn kids about the real life nightmare that is drugs.
Mario says that if you do drugs your life will go to hell before you die and urges kids to get help from their parents, teachers, rabbis, priests and ministers if they are confronted by someone who wants to give them drugs.
1. Bill Cosby’s Creepy Public Service Announcement
Bill Cosby talks about speed and other uppers in this public service announcement from the 1970s, but now it comes off as extremely creepy considering the horrific allegations the now hated comedian has been facing over the past year.
Cosby admitted to buying drugs for sex in a deposition that was recently released, so this anti-drug PSA from Cosby takes on an entirely new connotation considering what he’s accused of doing is substantially worse than personal recreational drug use. It’s hard to watch Cosby talk about the dangers of drugs now that so many women have come forward to tell their stories about what Cosby allegedly did to them.
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