Michael Polakovs, known in America as Coco the Clown, (born Riga, Latvia 23 February 1923; died USA, 6 December 2009) was a famous clown. His father was known as Coco the Clown in Britain. Michael played the part of Coco the Clown in America. He was also known for being Ronald McDonald, the clown who publicized McDonald’s fast food chain.
Michael Polakovs was born in Riga. His parents Nikolai and Valentina were both circus artists. Nikolai was known as Coco the Clown. He was working in Breslau in Germany when Willy Schumann, the circus director, saw him and persuaded him to go to Britain.
The family moved to Britain where his father found work in Bertram Mills circus. Michael was the eldest of six children. By the time he was 17 he was working as a clown called “Coconut”. Then World War II started and he and his father had to work digging roads and laying gas pipes. They earned £2 16s 6d a week (just over £2.82 in modern money). Then he became a driver for the government. He also managed to do some work as a clown in Blackpool Tower Circus and Tom Arnold’s circus.
When Bertram Mills opened his circus again after the war the Polakovs family were all working for him. He was particularly good at stilt-walking. One one occasion he saved the life of a lion tamer who was being attacked by a lion.
In 1951 he went with a brother and a sister to work for Billy Smart’s circus. The brother married Billy Smart’s daughter.
In 1958 Michael decided to go to the United States. There he became known as Coco the Clown. He worked for the Ringling Brother’s Barnum & Bailey Circus, known as “The Greatest Show on Earth”. Later he worked for other circuses. He started the popularity of the character Ronald McDonald, advertising for the fast food chain. He designed Ronald’s clothes and make-up and appeared in the first eight of his television commercials.
Later he settled with his second wife in Kentucky. He had four children by his first wife and two children by his second wife.
He died aged 86 in 2009.
- Obituary in The Daily Telegraph, 16 December 2009, p. 33