Larry Harmon, who turned the character Bozo the Clown into a show business staple that delighted children for more than a half-century, died Thursday of congestive heart failure.
He was 83.
His publicist, Jerry Digney, said he died at his home.
Although not the original Bozo, Harmon portrayed the popular clown in countless appearances and, as an entrepreneur, he licensed the character to others, particularly dozens of television stations around the country.
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The stations in turn hired actors to be their local Bozos.
“You might say, in a way, I was cloning BTC (Bozo the Clown) before anybody else out there got around to cloning DNA,” Harmon said in a 1996 interview.
“Bozo is a combination of the wonderful wisdom of the adult and the childlike ways in all of us,” Harmon said.
Pinto Colvig, who also provided the voice for Walt Disney's Goofy, originated Bozo the Clown when Capitol Records introduced a series of children's records in 1946. Harmon would later meet his alter ego while answering a casting call to make personal appearances as a clown to promote the records.
He got that job and eventually bought the rights to Bozo. Along the way, he embellished Bozo's distinctive look: the orange-tufted hair, the bulbous nose, the outlandish red, white and blue costume.
“I felt if I could plant my size 83AAA shoes on this planet, (people) would never be able to forget those footprints,” he said.
Susan Harmon, his wife of 29 years, indicated Harmon was the perfect fit for Bozo.
“He was the most optimistic man I ever met. He always saw a bright side; he always had something good to say about everybody. He was the love of my life,” she said Thursday.
The business – combining animation, licensing of the character, and personal appearances – made millions, as Harmon trained more than 200 Bozos over the years to represent him in local markets.
“I'm looking for that sparkle in the eyes, that emotion, feeling, directness, warmth. That is so important,” he said of his criteria for becoming a Bozo.
The Chicago version of Bozo ran on WGN-TV in Chicago for 40 years and was seen in many other cities after cable television transformed WGN into a superstation.
Harmon protected Bozo's reputation with a vengeance, while embracing those who poked good-natured fun at the clown.
As Bozo's influence spread through popular culture, his very name became a synonym for clownish behavior.
“Bozo is a star, an entertainer, bigger than life,” Harmon once said. “People see him as Mr. Bozo, somebody you can relate to, touch and laugh with.”