Mikhail Gorbachev was remembered Tuesday as one of the most consequential figures in the 20th century — who was also a cultural icon of sorts after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, who died at 91, appeared in both Pizza Hut and Louis Vuitton advertisements and was greeted with “Gorbymania” amongst Western countries during his travels following his departure from office.
His significant and complicated legacy in Russia was played out in a 1997 Pizza Hut commercial that went international.
As the retired statesman sits down with his 10-year-old granddaughter to enjoy a pizza pie from the chain restaurant in Russia, two men who recognize him at a nearby table starting arguing whether Gorbachev was a positive or negative influence on the country.
“Because of him we have economic confusion,” one older man said, to which a young man argued back, “Because of him we have opportunity.” The two go back and forth until an older woman at the table interrupts them.
“Because of him we have many things… like Pizza Hut,” the woman said, to which patrons began to cheer on Gorbachev in the restaurant.
He also appeared in a print ad for a luxury fashion company about a decade later where he’s seated in the back of limousine passing the remaining part of the Berlin Wall with an open Louis Vuitton bag next to him.
What made the ad more eye-catching was a publication poking out of the fancy bag with a headline in Russia that states: “The Murder of Litvinenko: They Wanted to Give Up the Suspect for $7,000, according to a 2007 New York Times report.
The reference is to a former KGB spy, Alexander V. Litvinenko, who died a year prior after he was poisoned with a radioactive isotope. The Times reported that Litvinenko accused Russian strongman Vladimir Putin of plotting his murder while on his deathbed.
But Louis Vuitton and its ad agency in 2007 Ogilvy & Mather dismissed any greater significance beyond selling Vuitton bags.
“Our company has absolutely no intention to pass any other messages than the one on ‘personal journeys,’ ” in reference to the type of ad campaign Gorbachev appeared in, the director of marketing at Louis Vuitton told the Times in an email back then.
Gorbachev’s people also denied to the Times any political insinuation.
The larger-than-life figure clinched Time’s Person of the Decade for the 1980s, with him appearing on the magazine’s cover on Jan. 1, 1990.
He was chosen because he was “the force behind the most momentous events of the ‘80s and because what he has already done will almost certainly shape the future,” Time said at the time, according to the Associated Press.
The magazine also credited him as someone who “accelerated history, making possible the end of one of its most disreputable episodes, the imposition of a cruel and unnatural order on hundreds of millions of people.”
When he would visit democracies outside of Russia, the reception was frenzied joy even as people in his own homeland were not as thrilled with his past leadership.
“At a bookstore in downtown Washington yesterday, Gorbymania ruled once more. Gorbaswoons were back,” the Washington Post reported in a 1995 story.
“It was as though nothing in history had changed. A man who might have trouble, figuratively speaking, getting a free cup of coffee in his own country was demonstrating all over again his wild star power in America.”