- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2000

Charles Schulz, creator of the beloved cartoon strip "Peanuts," died the night before his last original strip a fond farewell to his fans was published in newspapers around the world.

According to his son Craig, he died in his sleep Saturday night at his home in Santa Rosa, Calif. His wife, Jeannie, was by his side.

Mr. Schulz, 77, suffered from Parkinson's disease and colon cancer, which was diagnosed after he had several small strokes last November and underwent emergency surgery. Both the cancer and strokes made it difficult for him to speak and see, forcing him to retire.

"I was hoping I would draw for another three or four years," Mr. Schulz said in a recent interview. "All of a sudden, one day I find myself in my studio on my couch and they're dialing 911 and my career is over."

He said he wanted to spend time with his family while undergoing chemotherapy. Lorrie Myers, a secretary at Mr. Schulz's Creative Associates Studio in Santa Rosa, said that as late as Friday Mr. Schulz was ice skating and still making trips to the office to read get-well cards.

The last original daily strip of "Peanuts" appeared on Jan. 3, and the final original Sunday feature appeared yesterday, with Snoopy typing a note.

"Dear Friends …," it began, "I have been fortunate to draw Charlie Brown and his friends for almost 50 years. It has been the fulfillment of my childhood ambition.

"Unfortunately, I am no longer able to maintain the schedule demanded by a daily comic strip. My family does not wish Peanuts to be continued by anyone else, therefore I am announcing my retirement.

"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.

"Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy … how can I ever forget them."

The letter ended with Mr. Schulz's signature.

Since Jan. 3, United Media, his syndicator, had offered daily strips from 1974, which displeased Mr. Schulz, who believed his work from 1988 through 1999 to have been his best.

The impact of "Peanuts" on popular culture has been wide-ranging and quirky like the strip itself. Charlie Brown became an icon of innocence, defining the perplexities of life on a daily basis. The other characters lovable Snoopy, grouchy Lucy, insecure Linus and a cast of eccentric playmates were equally goofy and heartwarming.

The musical "You're A Good Man Charlie Brown" was a hit on Broadway, not once but twice. The TV special "A Charlie Brown Christmas," which first appeared in 1965, has rerun ever since. "Peanuts" currently is a $1 billion-a-year industry, including worldwide retail sales from licensing, publishing and TV shows.

In Japan, where the strip is studied for its philosophical aspects and books are written for adults on its psychology, there are ski resorts built around Peanuts themes, hotels with Snoopy rooms, and a chain of stores selling adult clothing with Snoopy logos.

On Oct. 2, 1950, when the strip first appeared, it ran in just seven newspapers. Today, it's carried by 2,600 newspapers, reaching an estimated 355 million readers in 75 countries. It is translated into 21 languages.

"It seems beyond the comprehension of people that someone can be born to draw comic strips, but I think I was," Mr. Schulz said in announcing his retirement in early December. "My ambition from earliest memory was to produce a daily comic strip."

Until he became ill with cancer last fall, Mr. Schulz drew "Peanuts" 365 days a year at his studio.

Born in St. Paul, Minn., on Nov. 26, 1922, Mr. Schulz's fascination with comics began with reading the strips each Sunday with his father, a barber.

Mr. Schulz learned how to draw by taking an artists' correspondence course, the kind that used to be widely advertised on matchbooks.

He got his first break in 1947 when he sold a cartoon feature called "Li'l Folks" to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Then, in 1950, after many rejections, he signed on with United Media. But he had to change the name of "Li'l Folks" because there were two other strips with similar names.

In an interview before he became ill, Mr. Schulz said that he was never happy with the name "Peanuts." He always felt it signified something insignificant or unimportant. And to him, it was something worth dedicating his life to.

"Why do musicians compose symphonies and poets write poems?" he asked. "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."

Unlike many cartoonists, Mr. Schulz drew every strip without the assistance of an art staff. He customarily worked six weeks ahead on the series.

When "Peanuts" first appeared, the characters bore little resemblance to the characters plastered on lunch boxes, greeting cards and screen savers today.

"You're just always hoping and trying to get better," Mr. Schulz said. "What you'll discover, as the reprinting comes out and you haven't looked at it in awhile, Charlie has gotten taller or Snoopy's nose is bigger. But you're always thinking, 'Well, gosh, I've got to be getting better.' "

Snoopy was always "the most satisfying to draw because of all the different expressions he has," Mr. Schulz said.

During his career, Mr. Schulz won two Reuben Awards from the National Cartoonists Society, five Emmy Awards and two Peabody Awards for his television specials. He has been inducted into the Cartoonists Hall of Fame, and he was to have been honored with a lifetime achievement award on May 27 at the National Cartoonists Society convention in New York.

It came as a shock to his associates when Mr. Schulz announced he would have to stop his drawing. The strip, he'd made clear, defined him.

"As a youngster, I didn't realize how many Charlie Browns there were in the world," he had said. "I thought I was the only one. Now I realize that Charlie Brown's goofs are familiar to everybody, adults and children alike."

Mr. Schulz said the idea for the last strip came from a conversation he had with his family, who "always said they wouldn't want anyone else to draw that strip," he said. "After I came home from the hospital, all of a sudden I realized we're going to have to have this strip end and we can't leave readers hanging. So, we decided to write a notice that it was happening."

When it was published, it was one of the most widely reported news events of the new year. Several cartoonists and the entire membership of the National Cartoonists Society did tribute strips while acknowledging the gaping void that would be left on the comics pages could never be filled.

"Nobody thought he was too good, to tell you the truth, because he had a whole different style," Mort Walker, creator of "Beetle Bailey," said yesterday from Boca Raton, Fla., in an interview with WCCO in Minneapolis. "He didn't do the traditional solid cartoon, which was kind of slapstick humor. But he brought in pathos, failure, rejection, all that stuff and somehow made it funny."

"It's sad to think that he didn't get the chance to see his last strip running in the paper," Tom Batiuk, cartoonist of "Funky Winkerbean" and "Crankshaft," told the AP yesterday from his home in Medina, Ohio. "It would have been nice to see him bask in the glory of it a little bit more.

"I am part of that generation of cartoonists that were just devoted to his work," he added. "Strips prior to his time reflected the world around us. He opened a door to the world inside us and allowed us to share feelings that are common to everyone."

Mell Lazarus, who draws the "Momma" and "Miss Peach" strips, knew Mr. Schulz for 42 years.

"I think 'Peanuts' has been for most of its existence the best comic strip in history, and nothing's ever approached it," Mr. Lazarus told the AP. "He's going to be missed and will clearly never be replaced."

"He made it possible for new cartoonists to be inspired and get their start. He was a master of timing in every way," said Hank Ketcham, creator of "Dennis the Menace."

News of the strip's end wasn't easy for Mr. Schulz, either. "It was an emotional thing for me to put it down. The last little line where it says, 'how can I ever forget them,' I thought, 'What a dirty trick.' I'm going to miss them."

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