Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

December 7, 2009

Michael Polakovs, a.k.a. Coco, dies at 86

Catlettsburg — The circus world is mourning the passing of one of its legendary figures.

Michael Polakovs, a.k.a. Coco the Clown, died Sunday night in the intensive care unit at. King’s Daughters Medical Center. He was 86.

Polakovs died of complications from a stroke. According to his daughter, Michelle, his death was caused by a massive brain bleed that followed a stroke.

“He went the way he would have wanted — quick and pain-free with family around,” she said.

Polakovs, who lived in southern Boyd County, was a giant in the world of clowning.

He spent his entire life performing in circuses, was highly respected by his peers and was major source of inspiration for several generations of clowns. A number or the routines he developed are still used by clowns worldwide.

His back story was as colorful and interesting as his long circus career.

Polakovs was a second-generation circus clown. He inherited the Coco character from his father, Nicolai Polakovs, who was known as the King of Clowns in Europe and was decorated by the Queen of England for his achievements.

Michael Polakovs was born in Latvia, backstage at a circus where his father was performing. He grew up in England and joined his first circus at 14.

Polakovs was brought to America by the Mills Brothers Circus and joined Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1961. He performed center ring for five seasons before becoming the circus’ advance clown — a position that involved going to towns where the circus would be performing to promote it in the local media. That job landed him on numerous radio and television programs.

But Polakovs was perhaps best known for his role in developing a clown that would become an enduring cultural and advertising icon.

In 1966, the McDonald’s Corp. hired Polakovs to design Ronald McDonald. He designed the outfit and makeup that is worn by the character to this day. He also appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as Ronald McDonald and appeared in the first eight TV commercials that featured the character.

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