A history of Grimace, the bizarre McDonald's mascot now making a comeback as a queer meme icon

  • Grimace has taken over the internet, thanks to viral memes and his birthday purple milkshake.
  • But the backstory of McDonald’s mascot is complicated, including changing identities, roles, and appearances.
  • To understand the beloved purple blob’s surge in popularity, we must trace his history.

If your head has been filled with thoughts of Grimace in the past month, you’re not alone: McDonald’s bizarre purple blob mascot has taken the internet by storm.

Grimace has inspired everything from fan art of him celebrating Pride month to a horrifying TikTok trend where people drink his purple birthday milkshake and pretend to pass out or die, possibly because they’ve summoned a terrifying Grimace to their location.

He’s even wormed his way into the memes of the chronically online with a “Donatella GRIMACE” joke about the missing Titan submersible (don’t worry, I’ll explain).

But what’s the story behind Grimace? Turns out, it’s complicated, a backstory of reworked personas leading him to be the beloved figure he is today.

Grimace used to be an evil, nasty hater

Grimace’s image and persona have changed over the years.

Grimace was first introduced as a new member of the McDonald’s mascots in 1971, but his original iteration was much more sinister than the friendly blob of today.

He was known as “Evil Grimace,” a villain who stole people’s milkshakes — not unlike the Hamburgular’s propensity to steal hamburgers.

“The original Grimace was scaly, mean-looking, had four arms, and had no charm whatsoever. He scared kids,” Roy Bergold Jr., the former vice president of advertising at McDonald’s, wrote in QSR Magazine in 2012.

While famed clown Ronald McDonald and other figures such as Officer Big Mac and Mayor McCheese were approachable, Evil Grimace just wasn’t bringing in the crowds.

It was time for his transformation. “We changed him to a soft, plush, two-armed blob of a sweetheart who only wanted McDonald’s milkshakes and to hang out with Ronald,” Bergold Jr. said.

He became a jolly purple giant with an extremely goofy disposition — a bit of course-correcting for his previous evil deeds.

The new and improved fuzzy and friendly Grimace was a successful mascot, quickly joining Ronald McDonald in a variety of advertisements.

In a 1973 ad, Grimace takes a trip to the beach but is quickly dried out by the sun. Ronald and some children comically revive him with McDonald’s frosties, and Grimace vows to only sunbathe near a McDonald’s from now on.

In another commercial from 1977, Ronald and Grimace travel to the land of McDonald’s sundaes, sliding down a caramel cave and attempting to climb a fudge mountain.

They eventually end up back at a McDonald’s location for ice cream — after all, these old commercials are still advertising — but Grimace fulfills a playful role as Ronald’s sidekick.

His lore is surprisingly rich for a mascot

Grimace is a registered driver.

Grimace has a pretty well-documented childhood. His teenage years include celebrating his birthday with Birdie the Early Bird and all their McDonald’s friends and getting his driver’s license, all while rocking a mullet and braces.

In 2021, a McDonald’s Outstanding Manager of the Year weighed in, saying that Grimace is a taste bud.

But a spokesperson for McDonald’s confirmed to Insider at the time that Grimace’s identity is somewhat fluid.

“Whether he’s a taste bud, a milkshake, or just your favorite purple blob — the best part about Grimace is that he means different things to different people,” the spokesperson said.

But if you want to trace Grimace’s history back even further, you’ll find surprising origins: He’s not a unique unknown being, but rather, just one example of a species.

In a 2001 episode of “The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald,” Ronald, Grimace, and their friends travel to Grimace Island, a strange place inhabited by a Grimace tribe of various purple shades.

The island feels inspired by an Australian outback or grassland, with wild vegetation and Grimaces wearing grass skirts and beaded necklaces. There’s a special Grimace Island treasure, too, and the tribe is very protective of it.

Grimace also has family members, including Uncle O’Grimacy, a green Grimace who brings Shamrock Shakes to McDonald’s for St. Patrick’s Day like an Irish capitalist Santa Claus.

Grimace’s birthday meal has brought him back into the spotlight

If Grimace didn’t invite Ronald McDonald to his birthday party, I’d say that’s pretty low, given their extensive history.

McDonald’s released Grimace’s birthday meal — and an accompanying GameBoy Color video game — in early June.

Grimace got his own bizarre purple milkshake, he took over McDonald’s social media, and people online loved it.

But celebrations of Grimace have spiraled out of control. TikTokers call him “Mother Grimace,” someone dressed up as him at St. Louis PrideFest, and art of him celebrating both his birthday and LGBTQ+ pride is all over the internet. Grimace — like the Babadook before him — has achieved unexpected queer icon status.

Memes about Grimace’s shake leading to unconsciousness are even more unhinged. Grimace himself responded, posting a photo on Twitter of his blank staring eyes and the line: “pretending i don’t see the grimace shake trendd.”

And his name has even been absorbed as the latest iteration of the “Donatella Versace” meme, referencing an off-topic comment where the fashion designer shouted her name and added a heart emoji on an Instagram post about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

So if you see people announcing “Donatella GRIMACE!” (pronounced like the designer), don’t be concerned.

As far as marketing campaigns go, Grimace’s comeback is quite genius. Take an amorphous purple blob with a fascinating history and make him ideal meme material, and you can be sure everyone online will take it to the extreme.

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