Paul Winchell, a ventriloquist, inventor and children's TV show host best known for creating the voice of Winnie the Pooh's animated friend Tigger, died on June 24, 2005, in his sleep at his home in Moorpark, California. He was 82.
Winchell first voiced Tigger in 1968 for Disney's WINNIE THE POOH AND THE BLUSTERY DAY, which won an Academy Award for best animated short film, and continued voicing the bouncy character until 1999's WINNIE THE POOH: SEASONS OF GIVING. In addition to Tigger, Winchell also voiced such characters as Gargamel in THE SMURFS and Boomer in THE FOX AND THE HOUND.
In 1974, he earned a Grammy for best children's recording with THE MOST WONDERFUL THINGS ABOUT TIGGERS from the feature WINNIE THE POOH AND TIGGER TOO.
ASIFA-Hollywood honored Winchell for his work in animation in 1997 with the Winsor McCay Award.
At the age of 13, Winchell was a winner on radio's AMATEUR HOUR for doing his imitation of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Ventriloquist Bergen was his childhood hero, and Winchell said one of the greatest thrills of his life was a joint appearance with Bergen on the game show MASQUERADE PARTY.
Winchell made his television debut in 1947 with a wise-cracking puppet he had invented in his early teens, and within a year became the host of THE BIGELOW SHOW. One of most famous dummy creations was Jerry Mahoney, which starred in THE PAUL WINCHELL-JERRY MAHONEY SHOW and CIRCUS TIME. In 1950, Winchell created Knucklehead Smiff for THE SPIEDEL SHOW, which turned into WHAT'S MY NAME? Winchell's dummies are now at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
Winchell was born in New York City on Dec. 21, 1922. He contracted polio at age six and learned ventriloquism to overcome speech impediments.
Winchell went to Columbia University and also studied and practiced acupuncture and hypnosis. He went on to hold more than 30 patents, including one for an early artificial heart in 1963, which he donated to the University of Utah for research. Dr. Robert Jarvik and other researchers at the university went on to build an artificial heart, dubbed the Jarvik-7, which was implanted into patients after 1982. His other inventions included a disposable razor, a flameless cigarette lighter and an invisible garter belt.
Winchell is survived by his wife of 31 years, the former Jean Freeman; five children and three grandchildren.
GSN will be airing tributes to Winchell on June 29 and 30 by airing episodes of WHATS MY LINE?