In 1984, a man named Kurt Jefferis nearly partied to death with Van Halen. Jefferis was the winner of MTV’s “Lost Weekend” contest and his prize was a few days of debauchery on the road with the Eighties metal legends. The promotion was a massive success for MTV, which aired much of the mayhem, including the moment Van Halen brought Jefferis on stage, smashed his face into a giant cake and showered him with champagne. But there was also plenty of footage not suitable for broadcast: Van Halen and their crew pumped Jefferis full of drugs and booze, and at one point David Lee Roth locked him in the shower with a stripper. But as the night wore on, it became clear that Jefferis did not have the constitution for this kind of partying. Finally, a friend he’d brought along alerted producers that Jefferis had a plate in his head, the result of a traumatic injury, and that he should not be consuming drugs and alcohol at all, much less imbibing at VH levels.
“The next morning, I had one of the worst hangovers of my life,” Jefferis recalled in Rob Tennenbaum and Craig Marks’ MTV oral history, I Want My MTV. “On the second night, Alex Van Halen handed me a sixteen-ouncer and said, ‘You’re not leaving this spot until you drink that beer.’ I poured it out in a trash can.”
Jefferis story is now the subject of Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb’s new short documentary, Lost Weekend, which recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. “This was the Wild West of the cable era and [MTV executives] were doing anything they could to connect with viewers,” Thomason recently told The New York Post. “They were flying by the seats of their pants, trying 100 different things to see what stuck.”
“Lost Weekend” may go down as MTV’s most infamous contest, but it was one of many outrageous ideas executives cooked up during the Eighties and early Nineties. Thanks to archive-minded MTV viewers, many of the promotional spots for these contests have made it onto YouTube. They capture the sublime ridiculousness of the era, when the network was flush with cash and eager to attract viewers and win the good graces of the world’s biggest musicians. But as Jefferis’ story shows, there was often a seedier side to these contests that emerged when the cameras were turned off.
“Paint the Mutha Pink” With John Mellencamp
Director of Promotion and Artist Relation John Sykes was the mastermind behind most of MTV’s contests during the Eighties, and “Paint the Mutha Pink” stands alongside “Lost Weekend” as one of his most famous — though not necessarily for the reasons intended. The concept was to buy a house in Mellencamp’s hometown of Bloomington, Indiana and give it away to a fan on the condition that they paint it pink, after the rocker’s 1983 hit, “Pink Houses.” But the first house MTV purchased was right next to a toxic waste dump, and they were forced to buy another. Per Sykes in I Want My MTV, the first house stayed on the network’s books until about 1992 when they were finally able to write it off.
The deed to the non-toxic house ended up going to a Seattle, Washington woman named Susan Miles, who, as part of her prize package, also received a pink jeep, a new stereo and — because why not — a garage full of Hawaiian Punch. Mellencamp also treated Miles to a ride on his motorcycle, a free house show and a private screening of the 1984 flick Streets of Fire (cool?). But to be perfectly honest, the footage from the actual contest pales in comparison to the bonkers promo, in which MTV apparently bought a third house, had a bunch of college kids paint it pink and let someone drive a chopper right through it.
Mötley Crüe’s Cruise to Nowhere
Anticipating the musical cruise fad by a couple decades, this contest let one lucky fan ride straight through the Bermuda triangle with Mötley Crüe and a whole host of strange characters. In the promo, Tommy Lee really sells his pirate impression, though Vince Neil’s could use some work. There’s also some ridiculously corny footage from the contest as well — though the audio quality is warped beyond belief — in which the band narrate their adventures on the high sea in messages-in-bottles that later wash-up on the shore.
Despite the lack of on-camera mayhem, one of the lucky cruise attendees, Guy Furrow — a.k.a. Miss Guy, the drag-clad DJ and lead singer of the Toilet Böys — has dished repeatedly about the experience. Furrow entered himself and his roommates into the contest, and when one of them won, he obviously tagged along. In I Want My MTV, Furrow recalled getting fully decked out for a party with Mötley Crüe and causing “a bit of a scene” when he walked in. “Tommy Lee thought I was a hot, leggy blonde chick, and kept saying he was gonna take me back to his room,” Furrow said. “Then someone told him I wasn’t a woman. That was right before I blew him. I’m kidding, I didn’t sleep with any of them.”
INXS Texas Trailer Park Hoedown
MTV apparently had a thing for giving away property in the Eighties: Along with “Paint the Mutha Pink,” they bought and gave away Jon Bon Jovi’s childhood home in New Jersey (the winners quickly sold it after being slapped with $70,000 in taxes on their winnings) and they even purchased 100 acres of ranch land in Texas under the guise of giving away an entire town (the winner was a woman who turned down the land for some cash instead; she also wasn’t even an MTV viewer, just a huge contest enthusiast). Then, in 1988, MTV wrangled Australian rockers INXS to help them give away a desolate trailer park in Point, Texas.
According to an article in the Penn State student newspaper (two contestants were Penn State students), the contest was nearly derailed by a hurricane, but the organizers quickly relocated to a bar in nearby Dallas. Apparently, MTV captured enough footage over the course of that day to air a special that lasted an unconscionable seven hours, though only a three minute snippet exists. In it Michael Hutchence and Jon Farriss get interviewed by a VJ with a chicken before picking the trailer park winner out of a pink cowboy hat.
Foreclose on a Yuppie
By the end of the Eighties, MTV was one of the biggest networks in the world and the crown jewel of the media conglomerate Viacom. So naturally it celebrated the end of the decade by deigning to let one lucky viewer get revenge on the most loathsome product of the Reagan era: Yuppie scum. In the promo, an authentic young alt takes over the life of some nondescript suit named Gavin, teasing a prize package that featured a Manhattan apartment, a new BMW, $50,000 and the services of a financial advisor.
The actual winner was a 23-year-old Ohio man named John Rogers, but it came at a tragic cost. Not long after winning, per The Chicago Tribune, Rogers crashed his prize BMW, and spine and neck injuries left him partly paralyzed in his arms and legs. On top of the initial spending spree Rogers went on after winning, the rest of his contest funds were quickly drained by medical bills and taxes.
Beastie Boys’ Body Snatchers Contest
Mix License to Ill-era Beastie Boys with a surprise spring break vacation and you get the dictionary definition of a thing that has not aged well. The conceit of this 1987 contest was that that Ad-Rock, MCA and Mike D would kidnap one lucky winner and whisk them away to Daytona, Florida for a weekend of vice. The prize package also included a cameo role in Revenge of the Nerds 2 (sure, why not) and “movie star gear from Stridex.”
The promo for the “Body Snatchers” contest fits squarely in that category of things the Beastie Boys would spend the next few decades trying to atone for. First, they sneak into a woman’s bedroom and try to kidnap her; later they sneak up on another woman and try to kidnap her while she’s using the bathroom. The actual contest winner was a young guy the Beastie Boys exclusively referred to as “Drunken Hero” (they gave him a sweatshirt to match) and the only part in the surviving footage that won’t make you cringe is the sequence where the Beastie Boys tear through a restaurant in search of their unsuspecting victim.
On the Road With Bruce
Leave it to Bruce Springsteen to cut through all that Eighties hedonism with the most blue-collar contest of all time — the chance to be his roadie for a week during the 1984 Born In the U.S.A. tour. Sure, MTV would pamper the winner with fancy hotels, front row seats and a Fender guitar signed by the rocker, but as Springsteen stated simply in the promo, “You gotta earn it.”
The winner of “On the Road With Bruce,” a kid named Brian, sent in a whopping 113 entry postcards. And to his credit, the follow-up footage found Brian lugging monitors and amplifiers, coiling wires, tuning guitars and listening very attentively to the seasoned roadies who surely had a great time making some kid do all the dirty work.
Steal the Batmobile — The winner was treated to a engine-less replica of the Batmobile from 1989’s Batman, as well as $70,000 in taxes. Due to the contest’s fine print, he couldn’t even display it for money, so he just hotboxed it with his friends instead.
Evict Axl Rose — One lucky winner got the Guns N’ Roses frontman’s old apartment. In the promo he even promised, “This wall’s only been smashed once — some guy’s head but it’s been repaired.”
I Hate My Miserable Life — Similar to “Evict a Yuppie,” this contest gave one lucky fan a chance to completely restart their life, though this one had a much happier ending. Per an old Orlando Sentinel article, the winner negotiated the hell out of the prize package: She asked MTV to convert the $13,000 they’d set aside for a year’s rent and career services into cash, which she then used to help pay taxes on her other prizes and set up a savings account. There was also a one-way ticket to relocate to a city of her choice, but she chose to remain in her Florida hometown instead and made MTV fly her to New York to for a Bon Jovi concert.