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12 Most Bizarre Anti-Drug PSAs of the 1980s

Gene Simmons, Pee-Wee Herman and Corey Feldman all did their part in the Reagan war on drugs

The advent of crack cocaine in 1980s America became such a public health concern, the crack epidemic became a household phrase. Part of why this drug and its swelling use – by lots of young people, too – was so scary, is because society understood so little about the specifics of its dangers. In 1986, Ronald and Nancy Reagan addressed the crack epidemic and the violence it triggered, gave their first “Just say no” speech, and the War on Drugs was underway. 

As a response, the decade spawned an array of anti-drug public service announcements. Some, however earnest and true to its origins, got a little too creative, hired a strange spokesperson or were so hardcore that they missed the mark entirely. From hypocritical celebrity ambassadors like Corey Feldman to a woman snorting sports cars, here are the most ludicrous PSAs the drug-addled decade offered.

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TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES Drug PSA

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: ‘Drug Dealers Are Dorks’

If someone is offering you three perfectly-rolled joints (not to mention, how does an 8-year-old swing that when most 30-year-olds attempts resemble soggy lollipop sticks?), the answer re: what to do next is definitely “order a pizza.” That will help. 

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BELINDA CARLISLE Drug PSA

‘Life’s a Beach’ for Belinda Carlisle After She Quit Drugs

Why don’t more people take heed of the Go-Go’s member’s simple advice about addiction? Just stop! It’s so easy!! Perhaps made easier when rolling around at low tide in an oversized men’s sports coat. Ironically, it stands to reason that during the filming of this PSA, Carlisle was actually deep in a two plus-decade cocaine addiction. 

CRACK 'Gun in Your Mouth' PSA

CRACK 'Gun in Your Mouth' PSA

‘Like Putting a Gun in Your Mouth’

This guy’s rage is palpable. The intensity is impressive, but the context is lacking. Seems like crack may be a very spiky SweeTART that’s easy to accidentally swallow or something.

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PEE WEE HERMAN Drug PSA

Pee-Wee Herman Says Crack Isn’t Cool

Nancy Reagan led a swath of star-studded, truly bizarre PSAs with her anti-drug crusade, forever immortalized by the tagline “Just Say No.” The campaign addressed all drugs but focused heavily on crack. Although a number of ads featured exciting famous people aired – including Ally Sheedy and Bette Midler (who we know at least tolerates marijuana) – the one starring Paul Reubens as an in-character Pee-wee Herman was absolutely weirdest. That nasally voice paired with unnaturally rosy cheeks doesn’t lend a lot of authority on what’s “glamorous” or “cool.”

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PRICE SNORT Drug PSA

Snorting Boomboxes, Cars and Trips to Paris

And who can forget ladies and how much they love their things and stuff? This slightly chauvinistic approach focuses on the literal financial cost of coke, as illustrated by a pair of perfectly lacquered lips and the nose attached to the same face.

BURT REYNOLDS Drug PSA

BURT REYNOLDS Drug PSA

Burt Reynolds and the NCAA

“You can’t be a hit, if you’re high,” is fine but it really feels like a missed opportunity to riff off the “hit” double-entendre in this 1986 commercial. 

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WORK COKE PSA

‘I Do Coke so I can Work Longer’

In what may be a premature homage to The Wolf of Wall Street, we have this rather realistic depiction of your prototypical 1980s yuppie zooming through life high as hell from coke. Jokes aside, the fade-out is haunting.

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CLINT EASTWOOD 80's Drug PSA

Clint Eastwood Tells Drug Dealers to ‘Take a Hike’

Tough guy Clint Eastwood is not shy about his hyper-conservative agenda, even these days when putting on blast the “pussy generation.” So it’s not shocking Eastwood paired up with Nancy Reagan twice – once solo, a la Pee-wee and the rest, and once with Nance herself – to circumvent kids from crack. Has there ever been a more sinister utterance of “take a hike”? Doubtful.

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STRAIGHT UP Rap Drug PSA

‘Straight Up’ Anti-Drug Dealing Rap

A rap banger largely inspired by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, and focuses more on the wins of selling drugs, rather than simply purchasing and doing them. It’s also sadly foreshadowing of information we are now all aware of: that people of color are several times more likely to be arrested for possession of drugs than white people.

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LEARNED IT BY WATCHING YOU PSA

‘I Learned It by Watching You’

Obviously. Here we see some poor teen jamming out to some rock hits until that gets blown up by Dad in the classic parent-blaming direction. Though, frankly, you think if Dad got high so regularly, he’d be chill enough to allow his offspring to finish even a sentence fragment. (It did, thankfully, inspire Kraft’s 2012 hilarious parody.)

In This Article: Drugs, War on Drugs

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