Where Are They Now: Pepsi Paloma and the Other 'Softdrink Beauties' of the '80s
It was a different time for show business. In the 1980s, while there was a golden age in Philippine cinema, it wasn’t such a big deal for minors to be so shamelessly presented as sex objects. The so-called Softdrink Beauties—a group of young actresses who each took a stage name from a soda brand—was the kind of sleazy gimmick that could only have happened within that flashy decade.
They joined a growing roster of starlets whose borrowed identities took shape from the names of flowers and exotic places. Less remembered today are the “Street Beauties:” Aurora Boulevard, Brandy Ayala (whose first name also made her an “Alcohol Beauty”), and Epifania delos Santos.
The brainchild of talent manager Rey dela Cruz, the Softdrink Beauties all debuted under the age of 21—although their average age is much, much lower—and were all bona fide “bold stars,” starring in softcore features such as Naked Island and Snake Sisters. Fearless and, as they were often described, “willing,” they had no qualms about shedding clothes and exposing skin on film.
Their careers, however short-lived and tumultuous, afforded them the same luxuries and vices offered by fame, and they were even able to work with esteemed names in Philippine cinema including Mario O’Hara, Lino Brocka, Charito Solis, Celso Ad Castillo, and Peque Gallaga.
But, again: Short-lived. Tumultuous. Today, the sexy starlet is all but obsolete, and she has always seemed to be destined for burning out than fading away, forced into obscurity by tragedy or a need for normalcy. The Softdrink Beauties were no different—but it’s a relief to report that sometimes, a “Where are they now?” can be hopeful and not as bleak.
1| Coca Nicolas
Born Johnnalee Hickins, British-Filipino Coca Nicolas admits that alcohol and drugs, along with poor financial management, had been instrumental to the destruction of her career. After giving birth to her first child, she left the movie industry and fled to Japan, where she struggled to make it as a dancer and singer.
Her constant drinking and smoking led to health problems, but today, Nicolas is a devoted family woman who sells ice candy, gets on well with her neighbors, and enjoys the support and love of her children and grandchildren. She is also Facebook friends with honorary Softdrink Beauty Mirinda “Myra” Manibog, also known as Geraldine Zervoulakos, who debuted in showbiz when she was 13 and now runs her own production company.
2| Sarsi Emmanuelle
Once described as the “most controversial sex siren” of her generation, Sarsi Emmanuelle (born Maria Jennifer Obregon Mitchell, now Papillero) left acting behind in the '90s to live a normal life. Having had a comfortable upbringing, she launched her career at age 20 as part of an ongoing rebellion, going on to earn a Gawad Urian nomination for Best Actress when she starred in Tikoy Aguiluz’ Boatman.
She was married earlier this year, following a civil ceremony 11 years prior, and dotes on a combined family of nine children—four of her own, four from her husband, who was previously a widower, and one from their union. Her elder children are grown and several have successful careers. Her last onscreen role was in Raket ni Nanay in 2006, and two years before that, she played Bea Alonzo’s adoptive mother in It Might Be You. She currently has no plans to return to the industry, and instead plans to focus on her family.
3| Pepsi Paloma
Delia Dueñas Smith, better known as Pepsi Paloma, was one of four siblings and had been abandoned by her father when she was young. Scouted when she was 14, she became the breadwinner of her family, and was introduced in the 1982 feature Brown Emmanuelle.
The details become fuzzy—some of them the stuff of legend, some of them the cold, hard truth—after that. What is known is that she went public, accusing actors Joey de Leon, Vic Sotto, and Ricardo Reyes (known as Richie D' Horsie) of drugging and raping her and fellow actress Guada Guarin. For reasons shrouded in mystery, she agreed to drop the case in exchange for a public apology, which they reportedly gave, on their knees, on national TV.
Three years later, in 1985, after previous suicide attempts, she took her own life by hanging.
Had she left a diary behind, alluding to money and personal problems? Her manager had denied these allegations, saying Paloma was earning well and booking multiple performances. Was she approached by a comedian-turned-politician, brother to one of her rapists, and coerced into dropping the rape charges as they would have led to the death penalty? Was she murdered? The Pepsi Paloma rape case was a media circus for four months, and then it was dismissed after the perpetrators went down on their knees on live daytime television and asked for her forgiveness.
When she died, she was 17, looking forward to her 18th birthday. Or maybe she was a bit older, aged 19. The Eraserheads song “Spoliarium” was about her cruel, trouble fate. She is said to have written in her suicide note: “This is a crazy planets.”
Her legacy, for better or worse, seems to be her victimhood. But instead of being spoken about in hushed whispers, more and more people have been voicing it out, a challenge to those who’ve wronged her, and a call for justice that’s simply much too late.