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Beloved 'Peanuts' Creator Is Mourned Worldwide

Obituary: Influential cartoonist Charles M. Schulz dies of cancer the night before farewell strip appears.

February 14, 2000|RENEE TAWA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The death of Charles M. Schulz, whose anxious and joyful heart infused the world's most influential comic strip, dovetailed with the publication of his last original "Peanuts" on Sunday--the way he might have scripted it. A master storyteller to the end, Schulz's goodbye message to more than 355 million daily readers worldwide became his own epitaph.

On Friday, Schulz, 77, had a last skate around the ice rink he owns and died in his sleep about 9:45 p.m. Saturday at home in Santa Rosa, with his wife, Jeannie, by his side. In December, after being diagnosed with colon cancer, Schulz announced that he would no longer draw "Peanuts," the most widely read comic strip in history. At the request of his five grown children, his syndicate contract stipulates that no other cartoonist draw it.

Son Monte Schulz said doctors gave his father another six or seven months. But his dad was drained by the chemotherapy and the effects of strokes that left him partially blind in one eye and unable to read or draw.

"He felt old at 77," said Monte, 48. "He had already lived to an older age than either of his parents, and he felt like it was his time to go."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday February 15, 2000 Home Edition Part A Page 16 Metro Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Schulz obituary--Times staff writer Myrna Oliver and Sam Bruchey, a special correspondent, contributed to the Charles Schulz obituary in Monday's Times.

The last daily "Peanuts" ran Jan. 3; previous "Peanuts" strips will run indefinitely (starting with strips he drew in 1974, a time when Schulz was at his peak and newer characters--like Peppermint Patty and Woodstock--joined the cast).

"I think in a lot of ways, this is probably what he wanted--once the strip was over, he sort of figured that was that," said Amy Lago, executive editor at United Feature Syndicate.

Said his friend, cartoonist Patrick McDonnell, the creator of "Mutts": " 'Peanuts' was so much him. . . . I think the two of them were so inter-twined that in sort of a strange little way, it's fate."

Sunday was officially Charles "Sparky" Schulz Day in St. Paul, his hometown--a tribute that had been planned before his death. In Santa Rosa, his Redwood Empire Ice Arena was closed for the day, its flag at half-staff. Fans left piles of flowers outside the Warm Puppy snack shop, where Schulz began most mornings with coffee and an English muffin with grape jelly before walking to his studio.

"He was a master of timing in every way," said Hank Ketchum, creator of "Dennis the Menace." "He named his deadline for quitting his column . . . made the deadline . . and then left. His was an amazing life and career, and he will be sorely missed."

By Sunday morning, a Web site by the National Cartoonists Society's president had posted the news, with a cartoon of Snoopy weeping.

Widespread Influence

"Peanuts" touched nerves and reached intimate spaces in a way no comic strip ever had: It provoked an Italian Communist newspaper ("[Lucy] is a Fascist"); was featured in exhibits at the Smithsonian and the Louvre; and spun catch phrases ("security blanket," "good grief," "a Charlie Brown Christmas tree"). Snoopy emerged as an enduring 20th century icon, etched on children's tombstones and stenciled on the helmets of U.S. soldiers who fought in Vietnam.

The cartoonist who inspired such whimsy and pathos was a loner. But Schulz made the world seem a little less lonely, with characters that people knew or saw in themselves--woeful Charlie Brown, crabby Lucy, fanciful Snoopy, sage Linus. "Peanuts," which was published in more than 2,600 newspapers and 75 countries worldwide, was his place.

"All of my fears, my anxieties, my joys, and almost, even all of my experiences go into that strip," Schulz told "60 Minutes" in October.

Schulz cried when he decided to give up the comic strip. Tributes poured in, from President Clinton to The New Yorker magazine to Walter Cronkite just last Friday in the CBS-TV special, "Good Grief, Charlie Brown: A Tribute to Charles Schulz" (which Schulz reportedly watched).

"It's ironic in a way," said cartoonist Lynn Johnston, a close friend, "that all of his life, he has just wanted to be liked and at a time in his life when everyone in the world was saying, 'I like you, I care for you . . . ,' he really couldn't see it."

Instead, in the hospital, he was Charlie Brown-like flabbergasted at his bad luck, having over the years weathered strokes, emergency abdominal surgery, a heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery. How could he get so sick when he was active, didn't smoke, drank no more than half a glass of wine at dinner and minded his own business?

"We were talking about schoolyard bullies," said Johnston, creator of "For Better or For Worse." "And he was saying 'It's not fair. Here I am, sitting on the bench, having my lunch, and you come over and bop me on the head with a rock.' "

After 49 years of producing a daily comic strip, Schulz still talked about the joy of drawing a perfect pen line, of getting the depth and roundness to Linus just so. He drew each strip himself, and animation critics praised his groundbreaking style--his graceful drawing, the richness of his characters. Schulz despaired that he could not do it better.

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