The late 1970s, '80s, and early '90s were the golden age of the PSA. The best announcements often featured celebrities, who were happy to lend their star power to support causes from the war on drugs to protecting America's public spaces and automobile safety to teaching kids the difference between a good touch and a bad one. Here are a few of our favorite PSAs from that era. (And make sure to clue us in to your favorites in the comments!)
1. "STRONG KIDS, SAFE KIDS," FEATURING HENRY WINKLER, JOHN RITTER, AND MORE
This 42-minute educational video/PSA, which teaches kids about sexual abuse, features Henry Winkler (as both himself and the Fonz) and a few other celebrities, as well as one guy singing uncomfortable-yet-informative songs about what to call body parts (the song starts at about the 10 minute mark).
2. "BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE, VACCINATE," FEATURING BILL COSBY
Who could have predicted that this '80s PSA, which recommends that parents get their kids vaccinated "before it's too late," would still be necessary today?
Cosby frequently appeared in PSAs: He advocated for the Red Cross and Farm Aid, and filmed spots warning about the dangers of drugs, urging people to register to vote, and more.
3. "CLEAN UP NEW YORK," BY DAVID LYNCH
This video doesn't feature a celebrity, but it was made by one: David Lynch, the man behind films like Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive as well as the television show Twin Peaks. Never have the consequences of littering been so horrifying.
4. "DON'T EVEN TRY IT," FEATURING PEE WEE HERMAN
In full Pee Wee costume, Paul Reubens warned kids (or maybe everyone?) about the dangers of crack cocaine in this '80s PSA. And he wasn't the only celebrity to do so: Olivia Newton-John and Clint Eastwood filmed somber spots, too.
5. "TOO LEGIT TO QUIT," FEATURING MC HAMMER
In this PSA, Hammer uses his hit song to teach proper grammar and urge kids to stay in school.
6. "DON'T SMOKE, R2!" FEATURING CHARACTERS FROM STAR WARS
Everyone's favorite robotic duo from a galaxy far, far away worked to keep kids from smoking in this PSA. C3P0 and R2D2 (played by Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker, respectively) weren't the only Star Wars characters to film a clip for a cause; another PSA warns about the dangers of drinking at the Cantina and driving.
7. "TAKE PRIDE IN AMERICA," FEATURING CLINT EASTWOOD
I wouldn't litter if it made Clint Eastwood angry, either.
8. "DON'T PLAY WITH MATCHES," FEATURING MICHAEL J. FOX
In this PSA — from a series called "One to Grow On," which aired during NBC's Saturday morning cartoon programming from 1983 to 1989 — Fox tells kids that there's nothing hot about playing with matches.
9. "BE SMART, DON'T START," FEATURING THE JETS
What better way to drive home the dangers of teen drinking than with a catchy song by popular family band The Jets?
10. "TRY TO REMEMBER ELECTROCUTION," FEATURING ALF
This 1987 PSA appeared at the end of the episode "Try to Remember," in which Alf gets shocked while using a hand mixer in the bathtub and loses his memory. (After the episode aired, it was edited to remove any instances of electrocution — instead, Alf bumps his head in the tub.) The alien, voiced by Paul Fusco, also appeared in a "Keep America Beautiful" PSA.
11. "BUCKLE UP," FEATURING JOEY LAWRENCE
Before he voiced the title character in Disney's animated version of Oliver & Company and made "Whoa!" his catchphrase on Blossom, Joey Lawrence appeared in this Department of Transportation PSA, urging kids to buckle up (and asking parents to set a good example by doing the same).
More from Mental Floss...
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- It's official: The religious right is calling it quits
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- How science is accelerating our search for alien life
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1: 10 major differences between the book and the movie
- 6 tiny scientific mistakes that created huge disasters
- Inside Turkey's shadow war with ISIS
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
- The dangerously childish morality of liberal ObamaCare supporters
- The myth of the stay-at-home dad
Subscribe to the Week