Eduard Uspensky, Creator of Soviet Cartoons, Dies at 80

Screengrab
An image from 'Uncle Fedor, His Dog and His Cat'

The children's writer created hugely popular characters such as 'Chebarushka' and 'Crocodile Gena' that became known internationally.

Eduard Uspensky, the Russian writer of children's books who created a cast of hugely popular characters, including the big-eared, cuddly bear-like Chebarushka and the reptile Crocodile Gena, has died. He was 80.

Uspensky, whose books formed the basis for the Soviet Union's popular kids cartoon series Uncle Fedor, His Dog and His Cat and Crocodile Gena and His Friends, had been ill for months following a cancer diagnosis, the Russian state news agency TASS reported.

News of his death was announced Wednesday in Moscow by Uspensky's daughter Irina, who said (using his paternal patronymic), "Regretfully, Eduard Nikolayevich has passed away."

Uspensky's books spawned some 60 cartoons that were sold worldwide, with a Japanese adaptation and new animated series in Russia among the most recent.

The writer, who lived in a sprawling country house outside Moscow — where he entertained guests with an indoor swimming pool, swing, memorabilia and pictures of his cartoon characters and a collection of vintage typewriters — was born in 1937 at the height of Stalin's terror, when Soviet citizens and bureaucrats "disappeared" daily into the Gulag.

Uspensky grew up in wartime Russia and began writing after graduating from the Moscow Aviation Institute, where he majored in engineering.

The characters he created reflected deeply humane values — each imparted timeless wisdom to young readers and viewers on the value of friendship, trust and honor. Chebarushka, whose cuddly qualities made it a hit with generations of children, also found fame in Japan, and Uncle Feydor (in fact, a precocious but serious 6-year-old boy), with his talking dog, Sharik, and cat, Matroskin, found a place in the hearts of kids as well.

Uspensky fought a battle with Soyuzmulfilm — a major Russian cartoon studio founded in Soviet times — after it produced new episodes without consulting or paying him, and he was also behind the iconic Russian TV children's bedtime show Spokoinoi nochi, malyishi! (Good Night, Little Ones).