Michael Polakovs, the original Ronald McDonald clown for McDonald's commercials, passed away this past Sunday at King’s Daughters Medical Center in Ashland, KY. Polakovs died of complications from a stroke at the age of 86.
According to an obituary in the Ashland Daily Independent:
Polakovs, who lived in southern Boyd County, was a giant in the world of clowning.
He spent his entire life performing in circuses, was highly respected by his peers and was major source of inspiration for several generations of clowns. A number or the routines he developed are still used by clowns worldwide.
In 1966, the McDonald’s Corp. hired Polakovs to design Ronald McDonald. He designed the outfit and makeup that is worn by the character to this day. He also appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as Ronald McDonald and appeared in the first eight TV commercials that featured the character.
In addition to creating the Ronald McDonald character, Pokalovs was internationally known as Coco the Clown, a persona he inherited from his father Nicolai, also a world famous clown in his day. Pokalovs also helped found the Ringling Brothers Clown College.
The early Polakovs version of Ronald McDonald is actually quite different from the fey and well-groomed fellow we know today. He was scruffy-haired, more striped, wore a giant bib around his neck and a dixie cup over his nose, and balanced a giant to-go box on his head. You can see him on YouTube here and here. Pokalovs was also behind the later redesign of Ronald, which made the character more streamlined and ostensibly less scary.