Ronald McDonald is a clown. Birdie the Early Bird is a bird. The Hamburglar is a burger burglar. Mayor McCheese is the burger-headed mayor of McDonaldland. But what, exactly, is Grimace?
On June 6, McDonald’s announced its first-ever purple-colored shake in honor Grimace’s 52nd birthday. The Grimace Birthday Shake pairs vanilla soft serve and berry flavors, "inspired by Grimace’s iconic color and sweetness," and is part of the Grimace Birthday Meal, which also comes with the choice of a Big Mac or 10-Piece Chicken McNuggets, and fries.
The news reignited interest in our big, purple, non-dinosaur pal: Is he an amorphous blob? A monster? A taste bud? A milkshake?
Here's everything we know about him.
Who is Grimace?
"Grimace is from Grimace Island and comes from a huge family (including his Grandma Winky, aunts Millie and Tillie and his Uncle O’Grimacey!)," McDonald's shares with TODAY.com. (Uncle O’Grimacey was once the Shamrock Shake’s mascot.)
McDonald's says he was born on June 12 (the day the new purple shake comes out), and made his first appearance in a McDonaldland commercial in 1971, when he was known as “Evil Grimace,” running off, Hamburglar-style, with milkshakes.
“The original Grimace was scaly, mean-looking, had four arms, and had no charm whatsoever,” Roy T. Bergold Jr., McDonald’s previous vice president of advertising, told QSR magazine in 2012. In order to make him less scary to children, he said, “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.”
In terms of personality, he is the Patrick Star to Ronald McDonald's Spongebob Squarepants in that he is a well-intentioned, clumsy simpleton. He speaks slowly and infrequently, using the word "duh" before every sentence.
In the 1980s, the McDonaldland characters were streamlined, and Grimace made the cut. Our benevolent blob made it all the way to the end of the McDonaldland commercials in 2003.
But after that, he seemingly disappeared from public life. According to McDonald's Wiki, Grimace's limited appearances included a dance at Dodger Stadium on July 18, 2012; in Malaysian Happy Meal toys; at the 2020 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; in a tweet by McDonald’s in 2022 with a parody cryptocurrency known as “grimacecoin”; and in a 2022 Super Bowl Commercial, voiced by Ryan Reynolds.
Grimace then made his grand reentrance into society on June 6, 2023, with the launch of his birthday shake and meal.
What is Grimace?
"Our timeless bestie has become a fan-favorite known for his signature fuzzy purple look, friendly and playful personality, love for shakes, and of course — ambiguous nature," says McDonald's. "What exactly is Grimace? Perhaps we’ll never know..."
We may never know, but we can hypothesize.
In 2014, when asked by someone on Twitter what he is, McDonald's responded with a non-definitive answer: "Great question! #Grimace lore says he is the embodiment of a milkshake or a taste bud. What do you think?"
Responses included a "monster from an island," a "blob of jelly for my breakfast biscuit," a "giant gumdrop" and "the embodiment of my childhood culinary desires."
But the taste-bud theory is the one that really took off.
In 2021, Brian Bates, the manager of a McDonald’s in Canada, told the CBC, “He is an enormous taste bud, but a taste bud nonetheless.”
McDonald's never confirmed the theory, saying in a statement to TODAY.com at the time, "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.” But that didn't stop people from spitting out their milkshakes in response to Bates' assertion.
"My entire world view has been upended. I mean, I never knew what the hell Grimace was, but I didn’t think it was THIS," one person tweeted.
“Grimace can taste with his whole body,” another Twitter user chillingly noted.
"Ever since I learned that Grimace is a taste bud I have not known peace," tweeted someone else.
“If Grimace is a taste bud meant to show how good the food is why on earth would you name the damn thing after an expression of disgust,” another Twitter user pointed out.
“His feet are light and nimble. He never sleeps,” yet another wistfully imagined, including a photo of the purple fella dressed as a cowboy alongside Ronald McDonald. “He says that he will never die. He tastes in light and in shadow and he is a great favorite. He never sleeps, Grimace. He is tasting, tasting. He says that he will never die.”
So, unfortunately — or fortunately, if you're into the mystery of Grimace lore — we may never know what he is, but perhaps we've been asking the wrong question this whole time.
"it’s always 'what is Grimace' and never 'how is Grimace,'" McDonald's tweeted in 2021.
Much better now, we think. After 52 years of stealing shakes and playing second fiddle to Ronald, Grimace finally found his way into the ultraviolet spotlight.
We'll drink a purple shake to that!