'Clifford the Big Red Dog' Creator Dies at 86

Clifford Norman Bridwell - H 2014
Courtesy of Scholastic

Clifford Norman Bridwell - H 2014

Norman Bridwell’s lovable canine debuted in 1963

Norman Bridwell, the creator of the Clifford the Big Red Dog series, died Dec. 12 in Martha’s Vineyard, publisher Scholastic announced Tuesday. No cause of death was given. He was 86.

Clifford, Bridwell’s most famous creation, first appeared in 1963 and since then the lovable but troublesome dog has appeared in more than 50 books in 13 languages. Worldwide sales for Clifford the Big Red Dog books exceed 129 million copies.

In 2000, Clifford made the transition to the small screen on the PBS Kids network. The show lasted 65 episodes and was a big seller on home video. Universal is prepping a big-screen adaptation directed by David Bowers (Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules) with an eye to a 2016 release.

Bridwell was born in Kokomo, Ind., in 1928. He studied art in Indianapolis before moving to New York, where he took classes at Cooper Union. He struggled to get work as a commercial artist and moved to Martha’s Vineyard with his wife, Norma, soon after they were married in 1958.

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Clifford the Big Red Dog was turned down by nine publishers before being accepted by Scholastic. Bridwell originally wanted to name the oversize canine Tiny, but Norma prevailed on him to name the dog Clifford, after her imaginary childhood friend. The fictional Birdwell Island of the stories resembles their real home of Martha’s Vineyard.

“Norman Bridwell’s books about Clifford, childhood’s most lovable dog, could only have been written by a gentle man with a great sense of humor,” said Dick Robinson, chairman, president and CEO of Scholastic. “The magic of the character and stories Norman created with Clifford is that children can see themselves in this big dog who tries very hard to be good, but is somewhat clumsy and always bumping into things and making mistakes. What comforts the reader is that Clifford is always forgiven by Emily Elizabeth (named for Norman and Norma's daughter), who loves him unconditionally.

"At Scholastic, we are deeply saddened by the loss of our loyal and talented friend, whose drawings and stories have inspired all of us and generations of children and their parents.”

Bridwell completed two Clifford books before his death — Clifford Goes to Kindergarten and Clifford Celebrates Hanukkah — which will be published in 2015.

In addition to his wife of 56 years and their daughter, survivors include their son Timothy and three grandchildren.

See a 50th anniversary video celebrating Clifford below.