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Michael Jackson Pepsi Ad Footage Raises Questions About Director's Role in Accident

July 17, 2009 12:12 PM ET

Following the release of footage of Michael Jackson's hair catching fire during an infamous 1984 Pepsi commercial shoot, new questions have been raised about assigning culpability in the 25-year-old incident. TMZ spoke with a Los Angeles Fire Department captain present at the shoot who claims to have overheard a conversation between Jackson and commercial director Bob Giraldi in which Jackson is instructed to remain longer at the top of a staircase so that the pyrotechnic shot would look "more majestic."

"It was going to look like he was appearing out of the smoke, and that was totally against the instructions, and they did not inform us of that change," Captain Don Donester, who was there to oversee the safety of the fire effects, told TMZ. "I waited until he got to the bottom of the stairs, grabbed him around his waist, and took him down."

Captain Donester said that by the time the pyrotechnics went off, Jackson was usually two or three steps down the staircase instead of at the top — his location during the sixth and final take — resulting in a shower of sparks directly over his head. He said the decision put Jackson "in harm's way without notifying us, the safety officers."

TMZ writes that Jackson appears to corroborate these new claims in his autobiography: "[Giraldi] came up to me and said, 'Michael, you're going down too early. We want to see you up there, up on the stairs. When the lights come on, we want to reveal that you're there, so wait.' "

Giraldi was contacted by TMZ and denied the claims. Much has been made of the incident as a catalyst for Jackson's subsequent rumored painkiller addiction, which may have ultimately resulted in his death three weeks ago. Yesterday a spokesperson for Pepsi said the company was not involved in the release of the footage, calling the shoot "a terrifying event that we'll never forget."

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