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He called Rockwell his earliest hero. “I remember my mom had a big collection of copies of (Saturday Evening Post) magazines, and that was really my introduction to those great illustrators,” he said.

Kinkade was born and raised in the Placerville, Calif. He studied at the University of California at Berkeley and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

He said art was a major outlet growing up.

“I was always the kid who could draw,” he said. “I had this talent, and it was the one thing that gave me some kind of dignity in the midst of my personal environment.”

As a young man, Kinkade traveled by boxcar from California to New York with fellow fledgling artist, James Gurney, sketching the American landscape along the way.

The site says that with these sketches in hand, the two were able to get published “The Artist Guide to Sketching” in 1982, a book that helped land him a job creating background art for animated films.

Also that year, he married his childhood sweetheart, Nanette, to whom he frequently paid tribute to by hiding her name and those of his four daughters within his paintings.

“Thom provided a wonderful life for his family,” Nanette said in a statement. “We are shocked and saddened by his death.”

There was no immediate word on an official cause of death. Calls to the coroner’s office were not immediately returned.

The newspaper said friends and family on Friday began planning a private service and were weighing a public celebration for a later date.

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Online:

_http://www.thomaskinkade.com/