“Where’s the Beef?” “He likes it! Hey, Mikey!” “Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day”…who doesn’t love a good catchphrase? The right one can live in the recesses of your brain for decades, and occasionally (as in the case of Wendy’s commercial actor Clara Peller) the right one can even push an actor into the limelight. But what about all of those memorable commercials with actors who didn’t become household names? Am I the only person to ever wonder “whatever became of that guy from that commercial that sold that thing…?”
More specifically, I have often wondered about the hippies from the Freedom Rock commercial. You definitely know who I mean, and I’m sure you know the popular response to the question “Is that Freedom Rock, man?”
When I was a kid I LOVED this commercial. L-O-V-E-D it. If you asked me to, I’d be able to sing you the medley of all of the songs that played in the background of the commercial. Back then, I honestly used to think that the opening riff to “Layla” was the opening guitar riff to the Allman Brother’s “Ramblin’ Man,” because those were the first two songs to play in the commercial.
Well, thanks to the wonders of the interwebs, I was able to track down “Hippie #1” and ask him a few questions about the making of that commercial, what he was doing back then, and what he’s up to now. So allow me to catch you up, man!
Michael Beard is the actor who played “Hippie #1” in the Freedom Rock commercial. He’s currently living and working in Osaka, Japan, enjoying a fruitful career performing in Japanese movies as well as in Tokyo theater. He has been living in Japan on and off for 14 of the last 22 years.
During the time that he shot the Freedom Rock commercial, he was between theater jobs at the Country Dinner Playhouse and Heritage Square Opera House in Colorado. He was doing some local spots for law firms in addition to some corporate training films and photo shoots. When he wasn’t performing on stage he did some substitute teaching. He says that this commercial paid about $700 at the time, and that the follow-up commercial a few years later (which he believes was for a Sessions Records rock compilation called “Rock Revival”) paid almost triple that amount.
The shoot was in the forest near Colorado Springs (which is surprising to hear, as I assumed it was all filmed on a sound stage in a fake forest.) Michael said it went really well and that Red (Hippie #2), who was a local DJ at the time, was easy to work with. He thinks Red may now live in Atlanta, GA. They didn’t really get much into the character development for the hippies; they just basically decided to act nervous and stoned. However, if his hippie were a real guy, Michael thinks he would be “in Manitou Springs still doing dope and making beads or something…if not dead, LOL.”
In his early 60s now, Michael says he’s “still quite healthy, keeping busy, still single” and he may one day return to the U.S. to retire back in Colorado or Arizona. Although he has no favorite song from the compilation, Michael does currently perform weekly with Flashback, an oldies band, and last year he also performed in the Osaka Universal Studios Christmas show, “The Gift of Angels.”
He says he was amazed that the Freedom Rock commercial became so popular. As to be expected, he HAS had many people come up to him over the years and ask him to “turn it up, man!” He’s even met two guys in Asia who dressed up as him for a Halloween party, which leads him to believe that sort of thing may have happened a lot more during the late ‘80s.
On a related note, I wasn’t able to find a video for the Rock Revival compilation but I DID find a follow-up Freedom Rock commercial starring Red Perry, who I can only now assume is the same “Red” that played Hippie #2 in the first commercial!