Paul Winchell, voice of Tigger, dies in Calif.
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Paul Winchell, a famed ventriloquist best remembered as the voice of the irrepressible Tigger in the Winnie the Pooh series, has died, an associate said on Sunday. He was 82.
Winchell died on Friday in the Los Angeles area, according associate Johnny Blue Star and a Web site operated by Winchell’s daughter, the actress April Winchell.
Winchell was a fixture in American children’s television in the 1950s and 1960s in a string of shows featuring him giving voice to the sidekicks he created and made famous, the dummies Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff.
But it was his voice work on a wide range of cartoons and animated features that captivated a later generation of viewers, including turns as Gargamel of “The Smurfs,” Dick Dastardly of “Wacky Races” and Fleegle on “The Banana Splits Adventure Hour.”
Winchell was most famous for his voicing to the hyperkinetic Tigger in a series of appearances in Walt Disney Co. Winnie the Pooh productions for over three decades beginning in 1968.
He won a Grammy in 1974 for “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too,” including the movie’s signature song “The Wonderful Thing about Tiggers.”
On the award-winning soundtrack, Winchell gives a throaty, bouncy rendition to the memorable lyric: “The wonderful thing about tiggers, is tiggers are wonderful things! Their tops are made out of rubber, their bottoms are made out of springs!”
Jerry Mahoney, who began with an appearance in a 1936 radio audition, was inspired by ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his sidekick, Charlie McCarthy, Winchell said.
In 1986, Winchell won a nearly $18 million verdict against Metromedia Inc., which he claimed destroyed the only surviving tapes of his “Winchell Mahoney Time” children’s show from the mid-1960s after a dispute over ownership rights.
Born in New York City in 1922, Winchell devoted energy in his later years to pursuits like publishing on Christian theology and promoting fish farming in Africa, said Johnny Blue Star, who collaborated in a screenplay based on the autobiography “Winch.”
Winchell was also an inventor with a patent for a prototype artificial heart he built in the 1960s in the same workshop in which he created his ventriloquist dummies, Blue Star said. He also created an “invisible” garter belt, a flameless cigarette lighter and an early version of the disposable razor.
“He was more or less a self-taught renaissance man,” he said.