Why did Michael Jackson’s hair catch on fire?

Michael Jackson was an American songwriter and performer who captured the hearts of many with his energetic dance choreography. He was famous as the “King of Pop” because he successfully blended funk to pop culture with a contemporary disco of acrobatics and visuals. “Thriller,” his most extensive selling record in 1982, rocketed record sales with over 45 million copies worldwide. It earned twelve nominations and eight wins in Grammy Awards while remaining on the song charts for over two years, holding the title of the best-selling album in history.

Guinness World Records regarded Michael Jackson as “Most Successful Entertainer of All Time”. With his estimated sales of over 400 million records worldwide, Jackson became one of the best-selling music artists in history. He began his solo career in 1971, produced the album “Off the Wall” in 1979 with massive international hit singles. Audience instantly noticed Jackson’s musical prowess. Jackson’s hit songs “Beat It”, “Billie Jean” and “Thriller” elevated him to worldwide stardom.

Michael and the Jackson 5

Michael Jackson came from one of the most acclaimed musical families of the rock era, being the youngest member of the group, Jackson 5. The Jackson family performers consisted initially of Jackson’s older brothers, Tito, Jermaine, and Jackie. Michael joined his siblings at age 5, emerging as the group’s vocal lead. With the range and depth of the vocalist’s singing technique, the audience became captivated by the complexity of emotions performed by the young singer. Marlon, the older brother, later joined the group completing the Jackson 5.

The Jackson 5’s polished performances were products of endless hours of rehearsing. Berry Gordy, Jr., Motown Records president, recognized their engaging performing style. He was impressed by the group’s distinctive vocals and signed them to an immediate deal in 1969. Michael and his brothers moved to Los Angeles, where they lived with the famous Diana Ross and later did opening acts for renowned soul groups like O-Jays and James Brown. During the 1970s, the Jackson 5 became musical history’s most accomplished black pop/soul vocal group. 

The Jackson 5

Michael Jackson’s Hair Caught on Fire

On January 27, 1984, Michael Jackson and his brothers were shooting for a Pepsi advertisement signed with over a 5-million-dollar contract. It was a promotional deal with PepsiCo, the first Pepsi campaign launching the “New Generation” theme with tour sponsorship, in-store public displays, and pubic-related events appearances. The advertisement was a simulated concert at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, with an audience of over 3,000. 

The superstar was dancing to “Billie Jean,” one of his signature songs, on stage without any idea that the pyrotechnics accidentally set his hair on fire. Dancing on a tiered stand stage, Michael Jackson turned too close to a pyrotechnic display. The flames went off too soon, injuring him with a second-degree burn on his scalp, and losing some of his hair.


Michael Jackson’s recovery 

With his head bandaged, Michael Jackson’s team rushed him to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he received his initial treatment. Doctors eventually declared that the singer was out of danger.  Michael Jackson transferred to Brotman Memorial Hospital Burn Center in Culver City, California. Steven Hoefflin, the doctor who attended Jackson, recalled how the performer was quite shaken up with a palm-sized burn area. Reports showed that the pomade Jackson used in his hair caught fire. 

Pepsi offered compensation worth $1.5 million. Jackson refused to sue the company and donated the money to the burn center where he had his treatment. Jackson had been suffering from excruciating migraines while healing. Painkillers were the immediate medication prescribed to him. He also underwent different surgeries to cover his scars. He then used wig pieces to cover the burned areas.

Despite the incident, Jackson still signed another promotional agreement with Pepsi amounting to $10 million, covering 20 country tours and financial support for the “Bad” album. Pepsi continued the sponsorship deal with the singer. However, the contract ended when he canceled his “Dangerous” tour after admitting to drug addiction from reconstructive surgery from the fire accident after a decade.


Michael Jackson became one of the most influential artists in the 20th century. His contribution to music, dance, and fashion made him an amazing and accomplished international entertainer. Along with his fame, he encountered challenges in life, including his addiction to painkillers, leading to his untimely death from a drug overdose. Indeed, his hair catching on fire became a headline for the public’s eye.