Anna Spheeris, 15, dies of a heart attack due to an overdose of “speedballs” (intraveneous heroin and cocaine) injected at Gazzarri's nightclub on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, California. Spheeris is believed to have been a guest of one of the acts performing that evening under the club's well-known “pay to play” program that required acts to purchase and resell tickets in order to get booked.
IOTL: Anna Spheeris, a filmmaker still alive in 2016, brought her mother Penelope to see the Los Angeles metal scene, inspiring the documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988), widely considered one of the originators of hair metal's downfall by showing the excesses of its bands.
Having acquired the food conglomerate General Foods in 1985 (for $5.7 billion), Philip Morris enters into a strategic partnership with the California Raisin Advisory Board for a promotional campaignn. The Weather Girls re-record their only hit as “It’s Raisin Bran!”, and go on to tour dressed in oversized novelty raisin costumes, billing themselves “The California Raisins”.
IOTL: The Raisins were depicted by claymation figures singing “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, whose singer Marvin Gaye had died a few years prior (but not ITTL).
Indianapolis is chosen to host the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame thanks to garnering a lot of money (helped by the Baltimore Colts shunning them) and lobbying by Axl Rose. He's present during the inaugural class of inductees in 1986, all of whom had at least 20 years since their first album, and records a duet of “Hey Jude” with Paul McCartney.
IOTL: Cleveland, who was also willing to outbid the competition and has several ties to rock n'roll history, got the Hall. The criteria was and still is 25 years after the first album - meaning the Beatles had to wait until 1988.
AIDS patient Ryan White, 13, to return to Western Middle School despite the objections of nearly fifty teachers and over a hundred parents. White, a hemophiliac, had contracted AIDS through a contaminated blood transfusion. Although his doctors predicted that he had just six months to live, Ryan White would survive until June 23, 1990 – two weeks after graduating from Western High School.
IOTL: White was excluded from school, and died in April, never graduating.
A War on Satanism, driven by among other things accusations of backmasking of satanic messages in rock music (including “Hotel California”, as its singer\lyricist Don Henley is now a Congressman), and the Meese Commission extending its investigation to “porn rock” with devilish messages, explodes once Richard Ramirez, the “Night Stalker”, is lynched by a mob. This is a huge factor in the rise of vigilantism in the US.
IOTL: The “Satanic Panic” wasn't as severe. The Meese Report was just a comprehensive investigation into pornography, helped by the fact questionable music was discussed in the Congress by the Parents Music Resource Center - which never exists ITTL as Prince's career ending never leads to Tipper Gore listening to “Darling Nikki”. Ramirez was beaten by the mob, but taken to prison, where he died in 2013 of a lymphoma.
One consequence of this “justice by own hands” prevalence was Marvel rebooting The Punisher in 1986 in a new title written by Chris Claremont that ran for 147 issues until 1998, followed by spin-off Punisher: War Zone the next year. The widespread success of the Punisher is often credited for inspiring the famous rift between Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon in Batman: Year One (1987), and the character has appeared in numerous feature films, the most recent of which is The Punisher: Dirty Laundry, released in 2012.
IOTL: Claremont remained in Marvel writing X-Men comics until his departure from the company in 1991. 1986 saw a Punisher miniseries by Steven Grant and Mike Zeck, which was followed in 1987 by The Punisher, initially by writer Mike Baron and artist Klaus Janson, which ran 104 issues (July 1987 – July 1995) and had two spin-offs, The Punisher War Journal (1988 –1995) and The Punisher War Zone (1992 – 1995). Frank Castle has appeared in three theatrical films of questionable quality, with one of his portrayers, Thomas Jane, also playing the Punisher in the short film Dirty Laundry. Year One tells Batman's origins, but Gordon is still a friend.
Fearing for her life, Dian Fossey began keeping her handgun loaded with ammunition for protection. In December 1985, she fired at two assailants who tried to kill her in her sleep, wounding one and driving both to flee. After the attack, Fossey reluctantly returned to the United States where she would establish the Ape Defense Fund in collaboration with author Douglas Adams and biologist Richard Dawkins. (Some have noted that the acronym ADF also corresponds to Adams-Dawkins-Fossey.) The ADF was at the center of the ape rights movement and controversy of the late 1980s.
IOTL: Fossey was killed in said attack. Adams, a staunch supporter of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund as well as an avid naturalist, hooked up with zoologist Mark Carwardine in 1986 and developed what would become Last Chance to See. He kept a close relationship with Dawkins until his death.
In 1985, while on tour in Seattle promoting his latest book, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz is followed back to his hotel room by David Lewis Rice, who beats him to death with the room’s courtesy steam iron. Despite pleading the defense pleading insanity, California sentences Rice to death - though Dershowitz's widow and colleagues manage to overturn this by advocating for the mentally ill, and he remains imprisoned in the death row.
IOTL: Dershowitz is still alive (to the point the author had classes with him), and is infamously linked to the OJ Simpson trial. Rice murdered Seattle attorney Charles Goldmark and his family, also got the death penalty before it was overturned for incompetent defense, and ultimately plead guilty to only serve a life sentence.
Coca-Cola was a huge casualty of the Cola Wars. Trying to counter Pepsi, who even Atlanta golden boy Evander Holyfield in their ads, Coke gradually changes their formula to a “New Coke” tasting closer to the opponents. Pepsi managed to track down a Coke loyalist (Mullins) who had saved ten years’ worth of sealed cans and bottles of Coke as part of a pop culture collection, and convinced him to be the plaintiff in a false advertisment lawsuit. With uncontested proof, Coke loses and America turns on them, who in two years go from 50% of the soft drink market to just 11%. A teary Bill Cosby apologizes for being used in the New Coke ads, and Pepsi is even preparing to grow further with “Pepsi Supreme,” an even-sweeter reformulation of the regular drink. The company also thrives with Slice, creating a new market for sodas with fruit juice.
IOTL: New Coke replaced the regular formula right away, facing resistance and lasting for only 77 days before the original's reintroduction as “Coca-Cola Classic”, which resulted in a significant gain in sales. Gay Mullins, a Seattle retiree looking to start a public relations firm with $120,000 of borrowed money, formed the organization Old Cola Drinkers of America on May 28 to lobby Coca-Cola to either reintroduce the old formula or sell it to someone else. His organization eventually received over 60,000 phone calls. He also filed a class action lawsuit against the company, which was quickly dismissed by a judge who said he preferred the taste of Pepsi. Cosby also left Coke claiming the fiasco damaged his credibility, while Holyfield's Pepsi ads were only in the 1990s. Slice was successful upon release in 1986, but stagnated by 1988.
Between April and May 1986, suspicions are raised that the Soviet Union did an unlicensed nuclear test in Belarus, until colonel Anatoli Kushnin defects to the United States and releases info that leads the Kremlin to publicly reveal that there was an accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine (neighbor to Belarus) on April 26, one of the worst nuclear disasters along with another one in the USSR, Kyshtym in 1957.
IOTL: When the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) was introduced in 1990 by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Chernobyl was the only one at Level 7: Major accident, with Kyshtym as Level 6 (the only other Level 7 was Fukushima in 2011). The radioactive levels were so elevated that their spread across Europe couldn't be covered up by the Soviet Union. Kushnin remained in the fire containment and rescue operations near the power plant until May.