The newly released footage of the harrowing events of Jan. 27, 1984, when Michael Jackson caught on fire while shooting a spot for Pepsi, has raised new questions about who may be responsible for the accident.
Former LA City Fire Department Capt. Donald Donester, who was an eyewitness to the horrifying disaster posted on Us Weekly’s Web site, believes it was the video’s director, Bob Giraldi, who told Michael to wait on the platform where the pyrotechnics exploded too soon, catching the singer on fire.
“There was a deviation in the plan and there was no communication between the people that deviated that plan and the fire safety officers. What happened is that the talent, Michael, was told by [Giraldi] to stand there and look more majestic, so subsequently he stood under the sparks instead of being half way down the ramp when the pyrotechnics went off. He was actually under the pyrotechnics when they went off. Subsequently, you know, catching his hair on fire,” Donester told Access Hollywood on Friday.
Donester said he felt the biggest error the day of the accident was communication.
“You can blame [Giraldi] for not communicating with the fire safety officers,” he continued. “What happened if we would have known what was going to be done, the communications were good until that point. And a lot of times when we’re out there as fire safety officers, the directors don’t want to be told no, so I’m sure that if he had brought that to us, we would have told him no.”
Donester said the hair products Jackson was wearing might have actually slowed the burning.
“Hair product may not exacerbate it sometimes. It might have retarded the effect,” he told Access. “What was burning on Michael was almost like a candle effect where fumes were burning and not the hair. So that may have retarded the hair from being burned as quickly.”
Days after the disaster, Michael’s good friend Miko Brando confirmed what Michael later wrote in his 1988 autobiography, “Moon Walk,” that he was told to wait by Giraldi and noted that other aspects of the disastrous take were different than previous times.
“The explosion was much larger. The explosion was set off sooner than ever before. He told me yesterday he was directed by Bob Giraldi in the final take to remain along side the fireworks until after the explosion,” Brando said in a 1984 press conference.
More recently, Giraldi reportedly denied making Michael wait on stage.
“That’s not true. Whatever,” Giraldi told TMZ on Thursday.
Michael is believed to have begun his addiction to painkillers after undergoing a series of scalp surgeries around three months after the incident.
Amazingly, there were no hard feelings between Jackson and Pepsi. Just two years later, they announced an unprecedented $15 million advertising deal. But 25 years later, the cause of the accident remains unclear.
Michael’s commercial agent at the time, Jay Coleman, revealed Michael wanted to release this footage 25 years ago.
“Michael realized it was an accident and had no ill will towards anyone including Pepsi,” Coleman told Access. “Pepsi and the family talked and they all came to the conclusion that it would be better not to because when you watch it, it’s frightening.”