Mikhail Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union, died yesterday at 91. Among his great accomplishments was starring in this Pizza Hut commercial from 1997 when Gorby needed some dough. Of course there was more to the story than that, but not really so much. He reportedly received $1 million for the spot. "I thought that it is a people' s matter — food," Gorbachev told the New York Times after the filming. "This is why if my name works for the benefit of consumers, to hell with it — I can risk it." Over at Foreign Policy, Paul Musgrave tells the tale:
Gorbachev had suffered the same fate as many Soviet retirees, who had looked forward to generous pensions only to find themselves forced to hustle and scrape to get by as the Russian economy collapsed around them—shrinking by 30 percent between 1991 and 1998[…]
Gorbachev was determined to stay in Russia and fight for reform, not to take up a life of well-compensated exile abroad. To do that, he would need money to fund his center, his staff, and his activities—urgently. As Gorbachev later told France 24 when asked about the ad, "I needed to finish the building. The workers started to leave—I needed to pay them…"
(After months of negotiations,) Gorbachev finally assented—with conditions. First, he would have final approval over the script. That was acceptable. Second, he would not eat pizza on film. That disappointed Pizza Hut. "We always wanted the hero of the ad to eat the pizza," (Pizza Hut ad exec Scott) Helbing said.
Gorbachev held firm. "'As the ex-leader, I just would not,'" Helbing recalled Gorbachev saying.
(Katie O'Neill Bistrian, a talent rep at IMG who was representing Gorbachev) suggested a compromise: A family member would appear in the spot instead. Gorbachev's granddaughter Anastasia Virganskaya ended up eating the slice. Pizza Hut accepted.