About two years.
On 10 September 1945, a plump young cockerel in Fruita, Colorado, had his head chopped off and
lived. Incredibly, the axe had missed the jugular vein and left enough of the brain stem attached to the neck for him to survive, even thrive.
Mike, as he was known, became a national celebrity, touring the country and featuring in Time and
Life magazines. His owner, Lloyd Olsen, charged twenty-five cents for a chance to meet ‘Mike the
Headless Wonder Chicken’ in sideshows across the USA. Mike would appear complete with a dried chicken’s head purporting to be his own – in fact, the Olsens’ cat had made off with the original.
At the height of his fame, Mike was making $4,500 a month, and was valued at $10,000. His success resulted in a wave of copycat chicken beheadings, though none of the unfortunate victims lived for more than a day or two.
Mike was fed and watered using an eyedropper. In the two years after he lost his head, he put on
nearly six pounds and spent his time happily preening and ‘pecking’ for food with his neck. One
person who knew Mike well commented: ‘He was a big fat chicken who didn’t know he didn’t have a head.’
Tragedy struck one night in a motel room in Phoenix, Arizona. Mike started to choke and Lloyd
Olsen, to his horror, realised he’d left the eyedropper at the previous day’s show. Unable to clear his airways, Mike choked to death.
Mike remains a cult figure in Colorado and, every May since 1999, Fruita has marked his passing
with a ‘Mike the Headless Chicken’ Day.