Charles M. Schulz

  • Born: November 26, 1922
  • Died: February 12, 2000
  • Location: Santa Rosa, California

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Charles Schulz in 1997

'Peanuts' creator dies at 77

"Peanuts'' creator Charles Schulz died at home following a battle with cancer, just as the last original cartoon of his half-century career was being published in newspapers worldwide.

Charles Shultz "Peanuts" creator Charles M. Schulz died Saturday.

Cartoonists mourn Schulz's death
Some of the most fervent "Peanuts" fans were Charles Schulz's fellow cartoonists. And Sunday, they found themselves mourning their elder statesman.

Final 'Peanuts' cartoon offers poignant goodbye
Charles Schulz ended his 49-year-old "Peanuts'' comic strip with a poignant letter published in Sunday newspapers across the country.


The 77-year-old Schulz was diagnosed with colon cancer in November, and his spirits recently sagged as he battled the disease and pondered retirement, said Monte Schulz, his eldest son.

"I think maybe he decided that his true passion was in the strip, and when that was gone, it was over,'' Monte Schulz said Sunday. "He had done what he had wanted to do, and that was it for him ...''

The son said that while the cause of death Saturday wasn't known, "it appears he died in his sleep, almost between breaths.'' His wife, Jeannie, was with him when he died.

On news of his passing, fans and colleagues across the country hailed Schulz as an irreplaceable artist whose work over the years had become infused in American popular culture.

"I think 'Peanuts' has been for most of its existence the best comic strip in history, and nothing's ever approached it,'' said Mell Lazarus, who draws the "Momma'' and "Miss Peach'' strips, and knew Schulz for 42 years. "He's going to be missed and will clearly never be replaced.''

The famous strip - with its gentle humor spiked with a child's-eye view of human foibles - had one particularly endearing trait: constancy.

Year after year, the long-suffering Charlie Brown faced misfortune with a mild, "Good grief!'' Tart-tongued Lucy handed out advice at a nickel a pop. And Snoopy, Charlie Brown's wise-but-weird beagle, still took the occasional flight of fancy back to the skies of World War I and his rivalry with the Red Baron.

The strip was an intensely personal effort for Schulz. He had had a clause in his contract dictating the strip had to end with his death - no one could imitate it.

While battling cancer, he opted to retire it, saying he wanted to focus on his health and family without the worry of a daily deadline.

His last daily comic ran in early January, and the final farewell strip appeared in newspapers on Sunday. Old versions of the strip will continue to be published.

The last strip showed Snoopy at his typewriter and other Peanuts regulars along with a "Dear Friends'' letter thanking his readers for their support.

"I have been grateful over the years for the loyalty of our editors and the wonderful support and love expressed to me by fans of the comic strip,'' Schulz wrote. "Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy ... how can I ever forget them ...''

It ended with his signature.

Fans of all ages mourned his passing.

In Santa Rosa, 8-year-old Trevor Jones offered a bouquet of flowers decorated with a drawing of the city's ice skating rink, which Schulz built. The drawing, delivered to the rink, read in a child's scrawl, "I lik you.''

Ikue Kamasugi, 25, arrived from Tokyo Saturday night for the sole purpose of reading the final "Peanuts'' strip at the ice arena. Instead, she was mourning - and had not yet read the strip.

At the International Museum of Cartoon Art in Boca Raton, Fla., Schulz fans who came to see an exhibit featuring his comics became mourners.

"I said when they called me, 'It's not true,''' said a tearful Jeanne Greever, the museum's director of operations.

Schulz was born in St. Paul, Minn., on Nov. 26, 1922, and studied art after he saw a "Do you like to draw?'' ad.

He was drafted into the Army in 1943 and sent to the European theater, although he saw little combat.

After the war, he did lettering for a church comic book, taught art and sold cartoons to the Saturday Evening Post. His first feature, "Li'l Folks,'' was developed for the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 1947. In 1950, it was sold to a syndicate and the named changed to Peanuts, even though, he recalled later, he didn't much like the name.

"Peanuts'' made its official debut on Oct. 2, 1950. The travails of the "little round-headed kid'' and his pals eventually ran in more than 2,600 newspapers, reaching millions of readers in 75 countries.

Although he remained largely a private person, the strip brought Schulz international fame. He won the Reuben Award, comic art's highest honor, in 1955 and 1964. In 1978, he was named International Cartoonist of the Year, an award voted by 700 comic artists around the world.

The 1965 CBS-TV special "A Charlie Brown Christmas'' won an Emmy and rerun immortality, and many other specials followed.

There was a hit musical, "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown,'' with Gary Burghoff, later Radar O'Reilly on "M-A-S-H,'' playing Charlie. The book "The Gospel According to Peanuts'' explored the philosophical and religious implications of the strip.

The characters also appeared on sheets, stationery and countless other products. Schulz several times was listed as one of Forbes magazine's best-paid entertainers, most recently in 1996, when his 1995-96 income was estiamted at $33 million, ranking him No. 30 on the magazine's list.

Despite the success, Schulz struggled with depression and anxiety, according to his biographer, Rheta Grimsley Johnson. But the struggle only improved his work, she found, as he poured those feelings of rejection and uncertainty into the strip and turned Charlie Brown into Everyman.

"Rejection is his specialty, losing his area of expertise. He has spent a lifetime perfecting failure,'' Johnson wrote in her 1989 book, "Good Grief: The Story of Charles M. Schulz.''

Schulz himself left little doubt about the strip's role in his life.

"Why do musicians compose symphonies and poets write poems?'' he once said. "They do it because life wouldn't have any meaning for them if they didn't. That's why I draw cartoons. It's my life.''