In 1984, the two-year-old MTV network still had a lot to prove about its rock credentials, and bosses were serious about proving it all. At the same time, Van Halen had nothing left to prove – but it didn’t stop the parties connecting to offer one of the most outlandish prizes ever to the band’s fans.

Announcing the "Lost Weekend" contest (one of a series of such promos), the broadcaster listed the tempting treasure: two nights partying with Van Halen amid their 1984 tour, including all the larger-than-life antics that would come with it, plus a stack of merchandise and $1,000 in cash.

“You’ll have no idea where you are,” David Lee Roth said in an onscreen ad. “You’ll have no idea where you’re going and probably no memory of it after you go.”

Over 10 million postal entries were received, including a handful from from 20-year-old Kurt Jefferis – and it was one of his postcards that was lifted out of the pile. After fielding a load of desperate requests to trade his prize for motorcycles, holidays, hard cash and almost everything else, Jefferis and his friend Tom Winnick were taken from their Philadelphia home by limo to an airport, and flown to Detroit to meet Van Halen.

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“A guy handed me a bottle of Jack Daniels,” Jefferis told Page Six later, emphasizing how quickly the band made the winners feel welcome. “I took a sip and asked for more.” He and Winnick watched the show from the mixing desk before Jefferis was invited on stage, where the band smashed a giant cake in his face and poured champagne over him.

Things ramped up afterwards, of course. Back at the hotel, Jefferis was soon smoking a joint, and then the cocaine arrived. “I did a couple lines. Then David [Lee Roth] said, ‘I think Kurt needs Tammy.’” The groupie, an old friend of the band, “took off her clothes and started dancing naked. The two of us wound up together in the shower.”

Watch MTV’s Van Halen ‘Lost Weekend’ Extended Footage

He recalls Eddie Van Halen as a very friendly person, and becoming fast friends with the guitarist’s then wife, Valerie Bertinelli. Eventually, however, Jefferis blacked out.

He hadn’t told MTV that he’d recently suffered an accident that had left him with a metal plate in his head and a prescription for strong trauma medication. “I didn’t tell MTV about my accident because I didn’t think anything of it,” he explained later. “I was the grand prize winner and I was going to go experience a lost weekend with Van Halen.”

MTV boss John Sykes remembered: “I was in Detroit that night… and Richard Schenkman [MTV executive] called because the kid was freaking out. His friend said, ‘He’s got a metal plate in his head. He shouldn’t be drinking.’

“At the hotel, it was just insane. The band’s having a huge party; they’re saying, ‘Get the kid out of here.’ We had to lock him in a room, and one of our producers stayed with him. Van Halen poisoned everybody that night. It turned out to be one of our greatest promotions ever.”

MTV’s ‘Lost Weekend’ Was a ‘Wild West’ Experiment

As Jefferis took it easy the next day, a planned tour of Detroit with Roth was canceled; and while the band partied again that night, the prizewinner slowed himself all the way down. “Alex Van Halen handed me a 16-ouncer and said, ‘You’re not leaving this spot until you drink that beer.’ I poured it out in a trash can,” he said. Winnick, who’d held back on the first night, jumped deeper into the party instead.

“This was the Wild West of the cable era and [MTV] were doing anything they could to connect with viewers,” said Bradford Thomason, co-director of the documentary Lost Weekend. “They were flying by the seats of their pants, trying 100 different things to see what stuck.”

The prizewinning pair went home the next day with at least some memories of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “No way could that happen today,” said Jefferis, who to his knowledge suffered no permanent side-effects from breaking doctor’s orders. “You’d be signing releases out the wazoo – and that would take all the fun out of it.”

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Gallery Credit: Matthew Wilkening

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