80 Totally Awesome Facts About the '80s
The 1980s were the birthplace of so many things that have become commonplace in our lives: Personal computers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, and two-pound cell phones. It was a strange, magical time that is still widely celebrated thanks to our obsession with nostalgia, but here are 80 things you might not know about the 1980s.
1. Toni Basil was 38 years old when she recorded "Mickey."
Thanks to the music video, the 1982 song, "Mickey" became a cheerleader anthem even though its singer was more than a few years out of high school. It was also originally called, "Kitty," but producers changed it so it would be about a man.
2. Hacky sacks were all the rage, but they were hardly a 1980s invention.
Hacky sacks had a major moment in the 1980s, but they’ve been around since 3000 BCE—when Chinese Emperor Wong Ti used to kick around a leather ball filled with hair.
3. Casey Kasem quit the Transformers cartoon because of a racist script.
Legendary DJ and voice actor Casey Kasem played Cliffjumper on the animated Transformers, but he left the show over a racist script containing an Arab character named Abdul, King of Carbombya. They still made the episodes.
4. Clark Kent helped name the Walkman.
Sony named the Walkman after the Pressman audio recorder featured popularly in Superman. They originally called it the Sound-About in the United States and the Stowaway in the United Kingdom.
5. Waterbeds were an immensely popular luxury item.
In 1987, 20 percent of all mattress sales were waterbeds. The waterbed market was worth $2 billion.
6. Roald Dahl had an existential crises writing Matilda.
Roald Dahl struggled to write the book-devouring character because he was genuinely afraid that books in general were becoming unpopular. Fortunately for all of us, he was wrong.
7. April 24th is "New Kids On The Block Day" in Massachusetts.
Michael Dukakis is famous for losing to George H.W. Bush in the 1988 presidential election, but people forget about his larger contributions to history—like, for instance, declaring April 24, 1989 "New Kids On the Block Day" in Massachusetts.
8. Luke Skywalker was almost trained by Buffy.
In early outlines for The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda was named Buffy. Jedi and vampire slayer?
9. You could buy the phone from your favorite show.
In 1984, if you wanted a phone shaped like lips, like the one that D.J. had on Full House, it would cost you $70. Nowadays, no one even knows the price of a landline phone—and many people will never know the thrill of chatting on a hamburger phone or a banana phone or a Mickey Mouse phone or one of those transparent phones where you could see all the wires inside. A lip-based telephone will run you about $20 today.
10. Barbra Streisand's stylist invented the crimping iron.
Stylist Geri Cusenza invented the crimping iron after hours of braiding and unbraiding Barbra Streisand's hair for a photo shoot, unleashing a hairstyle that would rule over the decade.
11. Ms. Pac-Man had an … interesting tagline.
When the video game character was introduced in 1982, her tagline was: "The new femme fatale of the game world." Sure. Fine.
12. Jolt cola found a slogan to stick with.
Jolt Cola, which was introduced in 1985, used the same slogan, "all the sugar and twice the caffeine," for 24 years straight. In the late 2000s, they changed it to "Maximum caffeine, more power," which just doesn't have the same punch.
13. DC Comics was nice enough to let The Karate Kid keep its name.
Before The Karate Kid movie, The Karate Kid was a completely unrelated DC Comics superhero. Columbia Pictures actually thanked DC Comics in the movie's credits for letting them use the name.
14. Christian Bale once helped sell Pac-Man cereal.
In the 1980s Christian Bale starred in a commercial for Pac-Man cereal, thus giving us the name for his inevitable autobiography: From Pac-Man to Batman.
15. A lot of popular books were ghostwritten.
Ghost writing was incredibly common in the 1980s, especially among serials aimed at tweens and teens. For example, The Baby-sitter's Club author Anne M. Martin ghost wrote the first Sweet Valley Twins book, and Sweet Valley Twins author Peter Lerangis ghostwrote 43 Baby-sitter's Club books.
16. Olivia Newton-John’s song Physical was meant to be macho.
According to songwriter Steve Kipner, the Olivia Newton-John song Physical was originally written for "a macho male rock figure like Rod Stewart." The singer also worried after she recorded it that it was too raunchy.
17. The Razzies were born out of a bad double feature.
Speaking of Olivia Newton-John: After publicist John J.B. Wilson watched a double feature of Can't Stop the Music and Xanadu, he was inspired to start the Golden Raspberry Awards, a.k.a. "The Razzies." The parody plaudits for bad filmmaking were initially awarded at his home Oscar party.
18. Halley's Comet was first observed via spacecraft in 1986.
Chinese astronomers first noticed it in 239 BCE. We won't see it again from Earth until 2061.
19. Boomboxes demanded some serious arm strength.
According to boombox expert Fred Brathwaite, those boxes were so heavy that "some cats that would carry their boxes all the time, they would develop massive forearms and biceps." Some boomboxes were 26 pounds.
20. You're a big fan of Project Ii—whether you know it or not.
When American Greetings was developing Care Bears, they were top secret and only called "Project II." Project I, by the way, was none other than Strawberry Shortcake.
21. a Strawberry Shortcake convention lasted into the 2000s.
Incidentally, Strawberry Shortcake has her own annual convention in Cleveland that kicked off in 2003 and lasted more than a decade.
22. A soap opera helped make Rick Springfield a global pop star.
In 1981, Rick Springfield accepted a role on General Hospital after recording his album, "Working Class Dog." The show got around 14 million viewers daily, which may be why Jesse's Girl hit number one that year. It's his only single to ever hit the top spot.
23. You can visit a Rainbow Brite museum.
Your wish has come true. There's a Rainbow Brite museum in North Carolina made up of 1500 items of memorabilia from one woman's Rainbow Brite collection.
24. Nintendo got its console into stores with an offer they couldn't refuse.
In 1985, in an attempt to convince stores in New York City to carry the new Nintendo Entertainment System, a Nintendo exec promised that they could send back the ones they didn't sell free of charge, but they ended up selling 50,000 that holiday season.
25. Leopard print helped Simon Le Bon get his lead singer gig.
Simon Le Bon showed up for his Duran Duran audition in pink leopard prints pants. Nick Rhodes said, "Anyone who looks that stupid is positively the one."
26. Eddie Murphy's debut musical album was produced by Rick James and Stevie Wonder.
It cost over half a million dollars to make Eddie Murphy's album "How Could It Be," featuring the infamously bad single Party All the Time, which is now in your head. You're welcome.
27. Real-life scientists inspired Jem And The Holograms.
The last names of Jem (a.k.a. Jerrica Benton) and the Holograms were the names of real scientists who worked on hologram technology.
28. Don't Worry, Be Happy still makes people happy.
The 1988 song Don't Worry, Be Happy still has many fans, including Hillary Clinton, who received a teddy bear that sings the song from former Secretary of State George Schultz. Her memoir claims, "I kept it in my office, first as a joke, but every so often, it really did help to squeeze the bear and hear that song."
29. Lisa Frank has her own proprietary ink.
It's a mixture that makes colors brighter.
30. Members Only jackets were a big, big deal.
Another brand that did well for itself in the 80s: Members Only. Thanks to their famous jackets, the company brought in $100 million a year.
31. Hairspray helped relaunch hairspray.
In 2002, Aqua Net Hairspray had an unlikely comeback when the musical Hairspray, based on John Waters' 1988 film, started on Broadway. Because nothing says fashion like a musical that takes place in 1960s Baltimore. (Which was kind of Waters's point.)
32. Jon Bon Jovi hated Livin' On A Prayer (at first).
Speaking of hairspray: Jon Bon Jovi didn't like the song "Livin' on a Prayer" and almost scrapped it from the Slippery When Wet album before it gave them their first number one song.
33. Two famous '80s styles were invented decades before the 1980s.
Thanks to Dynasty and Working Girl, shoulder pads in women's clothing became very popular during the 1980s, but designer Elsa Schiaparelli actually invented the style in the 1930s. Also people have been perming their hair since 1872.
34. "Mr. T" is not a stage name.
When he turned 18, Laurence Tureaud legally changed his name to Mr. T, because he wanted people to call him Mister, which he considered a sign of respect that white people didn't generally grant black men.
35. Baby Animal on The Muppet Babies had two famous voices.
Both Dave Coulier and Howie Mandel voiced Animal on Muppet Babies. What a great program.
36. Cheers didn't get off to a good start.
The Cheers premiere in 1982 was ranked almost last in ratings, but its finale 11 years later brought in 80.4 million viewers.
37. ALF did wunderbar in Germany.
Speaking of sitcoms: ALF was very popular in Germany. The country actually has a city named Alf, and people kept stealing the sign due to the show's popularity. It also led, for some reason, to ALF making hit hip-hop records.
38. John Hughes wrote Sixteen Candles for Molly Ringwald before ever meeting her.
John Hughes wrote Sixteen Candles after an agent sent him a stack of actresses' head shots, including Molly Ringwald's. He put her picture over his desk and wrote the bulk of the film in one weekend.
39. John Hughes wrote Ferris Bueller's Day Off in six days.
But Hughes often wrote pretty quickly. In fact, the script for Ferris Bueller's Day Off took him just six days as he raced an oncoming writer's strike.
40. Most of Run DMC didn't like the name "Run DMC."
Russell Simmons—Joseph "Run" Simmons's brother, who helped promote the band and get their first single produced—actually came up with the name "Run DMC," which the rest of the group hated. They wanted to be called the "Devastating Two" or the "Dynamic Two MCs."
41. Gelly roll pens have something in common with gluten-free baking.
Gelly Roll pens were invented in the 1980s, but it took a while to come up with the perfect ink formula after trying things like grated yam and egg whites. A member of the team saw an ad for the food additive xanthan gum, which turned out to be the missing ingredient.
42. The Terminator most iconic line was supposed to be "I'll come back."
The line, "I'll be back," from the Terminator movies was written in the movie's novelization as "I'll come back." But before you write that off as a typo: "I'll come back" is how the line was written in the original script.
43. Jane Fonda helped popularize leg warmers.
Jane Fonda gets some of the credit or, arguably, blame for making leg warmers trendy. She wore them in her very first workout video and encouraged people to wear them to "feel like athletes."
44. Jennifer Beals accidentally launched the ripped sweatshirt craze.
Another reason for the leg warmer craze: the movie Flashdance, which also gave us the collarless sweatshirt. Actress Jennifer Beals once shrunk a sweatshirt in the dryer then cut around the collar so it could fit. She wore that to her audition, and the style made it into the movie.
45. The ubiquitous "Baby On Board" signs might not have been so great.
Stickers for your car that said "Baby on Board" were very popular in the '80s. But, according to a 2012 study, one in 20 drivers blame such stickers for obscuring their vision and causing accidents.
46. The oldest known emoticon is from 1982.
Computer Scientist Scott E. Fahlman offered them as a way of showing lightheartedness on message board posts. :-)
47. The Clapper wasn't the only product with that ear worm jingle.
The Clapper is notorious thanks to its commercial jingle, but the exact same song was actually used earlier in the 1980s in a commercial for Sine-Off cold medicine.
48. Slash almost joined Poison.
Future Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash auditioned for Poison but realized he wasn't right for the job when they asked him if he'd wear make-up.
49. Richard Page almost joined Toto.
Similarly, Richard Page—the lead singer of Mr. Mister—turned down the lead singer job in two other bands, Toto and Chicago, because, you know, he was waiting for Mr. Mister to come alone. It's unclear how he feels about the rains down in Africa.
50. Van Halen's famous "M&M" request had a serious purpose.
In the 80s, Van Halen famously requested a bowl of M&Ms minus all the brown candies backstage at their shows. It wasn't to be snooty jerks. They added it to their contracts to make sure that people running the venue actually read the entire rider. If they saw brown M&Ms, they knew the venue wasn't detail-oriented and that there might be some (potentially dangerous) technical problems on stage.
51. Fraggle Rock was HBO's first original series.
Fraggle Rock was HBO's first original series. It was a lot like the content that HBO makes now, but there was less violence than Game of Thrones, fewer drugs than Euphoria, and just about as much scheming as Succession.
52. The Pee-Wee's Playhouse theme song had a famous singer.
Cindy Lauper! She revealed in her autobiography that she sang the theme song for the wacky show.
53. Neil Armstrong turned down MTV.
When MTV premiered in the 1980s, they wanted to use Neil Armstrong's "One Small Step" quotation from the moon landing, but Armstrong refused, so they tossed in a beeping sound over the video collage of the Apollo 11 landing instead.
54. The Beastie Boys opened for Madonna.
The opening act for Madonna's first ever tour? The Beastie Boys, who often got booed for screaming obscenities. But it worked for Madonna. It turns out that the audience hating the opening act makes them that much happier to see the headliner.
55. "Fight For Your Right" is a parody song.
The Beastie Boys, by the way, wrote "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)" as a parody of rock songs (so many parentheses). It was a joke. They refused to play it live.
56. Bright Lights, Big City's publisher thought the setting would limit its greatness.
While Jay McInerney was working on his novel Bright Lights, Big City, his publisher said that no great American novels took place in New York, to which Jay McInerney probably replied, "Have you read The Great Gatsby?"
57. A three-year-old inspired the Polaroid camera.
All the cool '80s kids had a Polaroid 660. The brand itself was started in 1944 by Edwin H. Land because his three-year-old daughter didn't understand why she couldn't see a picture right after it was taken, so he fixed that problem for her, and then became a billionaire. Listen to your toddlers, people.
58. The Ghostbusters crew made three Stay Puft suits
It cost $20,000 to create the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man suit for Ghostbusters. The crew had to make three of them, which were all destroyed during filming.
59. Dr. Ruth was almost in Dirty Dancing.
Eleanor Bergstein, who wrote and produced Dirty Dancing, was friends with Dr. Ruth. Anyways, Bergstein wanted to cast Dr. Ruth as Mrs. Schumacher, but Dr. Ruth declined when she realized the character was a thief.
60. Doc Brown almost had a chimp sidekick.
Doc Brown had a chimpanzee in early drafts of Back to the Future, but the head of Universal said no movie with a chimpanzee ever made any money. Which is just completely unfair. I mean, granted MVP: Most Valuable Primate hadn't been made yet, but surely that exec was familiar with the Ronald Reagan movie Bedtime for Bonzo. Anyway, Doc Brown's chimp would have been named Shemp.
61. Miami Vice didn't have a real Ferrari at first.
Sonny Crockett's car on Miami Vice was originally a Corvette that the crew made to look like a Ferrari, but eventually Ferrari gave the show a Testarossa.
62. There was a literal book about what "real men" don't do.
In the 1980s, the book Real Men Don't Eat Quiche spent 55 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. According to the book, here are a few things that real men don't do: have meaningful dialogues, catch rays, drink light beer, or wear gold chains or anything with more than three zippers.
63. We didn't have Chicken McNuggets until 1981.
Believe it or not, America lived in ignorance of McDonald's Chicken McNuggets until the 1980s. They were released to test markets in 1981. Supposedly, by the way, they only come in four shapes: the boot, the ball, the bow tie, and the bell.
64. Michael Jackson's Beat It had a famous guitarist.
Eddie Van Halen! He rocked the guitar solo in Michael Jackson's Beat It for free as a favor to Quincy Jones. It lasts 20 seconds.
65. Thriller almost got a Fred Astaire cameo.
Fred Astaire almost guest-starred as a zombie in Michael Jackson's music video for Thriller. He even attended a rehearsal.
66. Pat Benatar expanded what music videos could do.
Pat Benatar's Love Is a Battlefield music video was the first ever to feature spoken dialogue. Near the beginning of the story where Benatar's rebellious teen character runs away from home, her father tells her she can "forget about coming back" if she leaves.
67. Spandex is an anagram of expands.
Fitting for the stretchy, synthetic fabric.
68. Paula Abdul choreographed for ZZ Top and Janet Jackson.
Such great team-ups. Abdul designed the dance for ZZ Top's Velcro Fly in 1985, and her 1986 design work for Janet Jackson's Nasty solidified her status as an elite choreographer. She also crafted the giant dance sequence in Coming to America.
69. the inventor of the Rubik's Cube struggled to solve it.
So don't feel too bad. After creating the set of colored cubes, Erno Rubik was fascinated by their beauty, saying, "It was tremendously satisfying to watch this color parade." Then he wondered how to figure it out. It took him a month, but there are also over 43 quintillion possible combinations, so a month isn't too shabby. Rubik also gave us the key to not figuring it out: Just enjoy the satisfaction of the color parade.
70. Hair mousse is named after the french word for foam.
It was invented in France and popularized in North America in the 1980s thanks to L'Oreal.
71. The guy who wrote Heathers wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct it.
Daniel Waters initially wrote Heathers as a three-hour-long dark comedy with Kubrick in mind as his dream director. Obviously Kubrick didn't direct it, or any movie after 1987's Full Metal Jacket until he made his final film, 1999's Eyes Wide Shut.
72. Rick Allen's mom got him his Def Leppard gig.
Drummer Rick Allen joined Def Leppard when he was just 14 years old after his mom responded to the band's ad for him. He auditioned against two others, including the band's original drummer who wanted the job back.
73. Prince wrote Manic Monday.
Manic Monday by the Bangles was written by Prince under the pseudonym Christopher. That was before his pseudonym was a symbol. He also wrote "Nothing Compares 2 U" for Sinead O'Connor and hits for Alicia Keys, Chaka Khan, and more.
74. Quoting Top Gun at Topgun comes with a fine.
People at the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School (a.k.a. TOPGUN) reportedly receive a $5 fine every time they quote Top Gun. Which is tough, fair, and worth it to toss out a few cracks about feeling the need for speed during class.
75. Ray-Ban was very happy with top Gun.
On the other end of the $5 fine spectrum: Ray-Ban Aviator sales jumped 40 percent after Val Kilmer snapped his teeth at Tom Cruise on the big screen.
76. Reese's Pieces were happy with E.T.
But if you think that's impressive, after E.T. came out, Reese's Pieces sales increased by 65 percent. The original script called for Elliot to use M&Ms to draw out the alien, but Mars famously turned them down (and lost out).
77. Wendy's fired the "Where's The Beef?" lady for being unfaithful.
Clara Peller, who said the "Where's the beef?" line in Wendy's ads, got fired from Wendy's when she did a commercial for Prego spaghetti sauce in which she said, "I found it!"
According to Wendy's, that quote inferred "That Clara found the beef at somewhere other than Wendy's restaurants." We all know there is only one location for the beef.
78. Fake Cabbage Patch Kids were a real problem for the FBI.
While parents were scrambling to find Cabbage Patch Kid dolls in stores, the FBI was hunting down thousands of counterfeit versions that sold for cheap and had "a strong chemical odor." They were tipped off to a massive operation when customs officials seized 240 fake dolls heading from Canada into Michigan.
79. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Uncle Phil voiced Shredder in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon.
The late James Avery was a familiar presence in households all over the world as Will Smith's sensible, put-upon father figure in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but he also voiced the cruel nemesis of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in their late-80s animated show. Enjoy using this to win $5 bets with your friends.
80. The recording for the star-packed song We Are the World lasted until 3 a.m.
Stevie Wonder wanted to record a verse in Swahili, and was waiting for a phone call about correct pronunciations. When the call finally came, Ray Charles said, "It's three o'clock in the g*ddamn morning. Swahili, sh*t—I can't even sing in English no more."
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