Once someone crosses through the mystical threshold we call “celebrity,” they become public property. In exchange for adoration and a boatload of money, we feel entitled to discuss them, critique them, pry into their personal lives, subject their bikini bodies to intense scrutiny, and generally treat them differently from the rest of humankind. Maybe that’s why it’s so disorienting to see future stars in old television commercials, just kind of smiling and holding tubes of toothpaste like nobody’s aware of what a truly special and magical thing is going on right now.
The viral content machine known as World Wide Interweb is well aware of the potency of these gods-among-us, and has assembled what it refers to as “The Ultimate ‘Before They Were Famous’ Celebrity Videos Compilation” in their honor. (They forgot Leonardo DiCaprio’s Bubble Yum commercial, but whatever.) Some of the celebrities featured in the video are so young as to be nearly unrecognizable, but others—like Stephen Colbert, seen here schilling for a now-defunct chain of Midwestern banks—come with their personas relatively intact. Ur-actor Bryan Cranston makes two appearances, because he’s seriously been in everything. But the most delightful surprise might be Morgan Freeman, who lends his divine voice to a Black Power-influenced commercial for Black & Long cigarettes (“stay black, stay strong, stay Black & Long”).