Ronald McDonald: His Life and Work


A former TV weatherman was the first Ronald McDonald, but only for live gigs. Ironically, considering the links between the company and obesity, the corporation decided he was too hefty to portray Ronald in the initial TV ad campaign. In 2005 Ronald got a new look, when the costume was changed to slimmer pants and a red blazer.

Over 52 years, nine different actors portrayed Ronald. One of them revealed to the press that the face paint alone took three hours to apply. Liz Dwyer wrote:

Over the years, antiobesity activists have compared Ronald McDonald to cigarette company mascots such as Joe Camel and have called for the character to be discontinued. In 2014, youth activists in Oakland, California, made a music video that portrayed Ronald McDonald and other fast-food mascots as drug dealers in urban communities.

As Samantha Bomkamp reported for Chicago Tribune:

A number of organizations, including frequent critic Corporate Accountability International, have urged the company to push Ronald into permanent retirement. The Boston-based watchdog has been aggressively targeting McDonald’s and its marketing to kids since 2010. Representatives of the organization have appeared at McDonald’s annual shareholder meetings every year since, urging the corporation to stop using Ronald McDonald, calling him the “Joe Camel” of fast food.

Ronald tried out the social network Twitter for a while, but attracted more derision than admiration. However, he has adopted Instagram, posting hundreds of pictures over the last couple of years. Meanwhile, something else was happening in popular culture.

The reputation of the circus icons had already been forever tarnished by Pogo the Clown (John Wayne Gacy) who worked kids’ parties and charity events, and eventually was convicted of murdering 33 boys and young men.

Around 2014, the clown stories began to surface through local news outlets. In various parts of the country, clowns were seen attempting to lure children into wooded areas. Incidents were reported in South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, New Mexico, and Indiana.

A knife-wielding clown was even seen in England. Coincidentally, this was the same year when the fourth season of American Horror Story featured a clown who dragged kids into the woods, so we must draw our own conclusions from that.

The craziness continued. In Wisconsin, two clown-garbed men were arrested on a highway, not for dressing up, but for leaving a 4-year-old home alone.

Washington Post‘s Katie Mettler reported that…

[…] a school district in Connecticut even banned clown costumes for Halloween. A Virginia middle school girl was arrested and charged with “one count of Threatening to Kill by Electronic Message” after she contacted an individual online whose profile photo was a clown and asked that person to murder one of her teachers.

In and near Detroit, authorities arrested two men this week for driving around town in clown garb to scare community members, including those at a fast-food drive-thru…

A fast-food drive-thru! How dare they! Let’s hope it at least wasn’t a McDonald’s. Last fall, the corporate HQ announced that Ronald was going to chill for a while, at least until the clown hysteria passed, so he hadn’t been doing much.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Isn’t it time for McDonald’s to send in the clown?,”, 07/16/15
Source: “Watch Man Who Portrayed Ronald McDonald Dish Advice on Healthy Eating,”, 07/06/15
Source: “Ronald McDonald has kept low profile long before clown scare,”, 10/13/16
Source: “Send in the clowns?… I think not,”, 09/16/16
Source: “Ronald McDonald lying low until clown scare blows over,”, 10/12/16
Photo credit: See-ming Lee via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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