Ziggy Creator Tom Wilson Sr. Dies at Age 80

The comic strip character, which debuted in 1969, today appears in more than 500 daily and Sunday newspapers.

Tom Wilson Sr., who created the long-running comic strip Ziggy, has died, his family told the Associated Press. He was 80.

Wilson's son, Tom Wilson Jr., who took over the strip in 1987, said his father died Friday of pneumonia in a hospital in Cincinnati. He had moved there eight years ago from Cleveland to be closer to his family.

Wilson got his start as an artist at American Greetings card company in Cleveland, working there for more than 35 years before debuting the character of Ziggy in a 1969 cartoon collection titled "When You're Not Around." In 1971, the Ziggy comic strip was launched in 15 newspapers.

Wilson's son told the Associated Press he came up with the name Ziggy based on his own experiences of being the last person in his classes at school. When a new classmate arrived with a last name that started with "Z," he was inspired and chose a "y" ending because it sounded more friendly -- like a "Billy" or "Tommy."

"Ziggy is a last-in-line character," Wilson Jr. told the AP. "The last picked for everything and kind of a lovable kind of loser character."

Wilson described his father as a "passionate and charismatic man" who always had an optimistic attitude.

Today, Ziggy appears in more than 500 daily and Sunday papers, with the character also featured in books, calendars and greeting cards.

Ziggy also starred in an Emmy-winning Christmas special, Ziggy's Gift, that aired on ABC in 1983 and was re-released on DVD in 2005.

Additionally, Wilson Sr. also was part of a team that developed the Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears character licensing, according to Ziggy syndicator Universal Uclick (formerly Universal Press Syndicate).

John McMeel, chairman and president of Andrews McMeel Universal, which owns Universal Uclick, called Wilson a "visionary cartoonist."

"Tom leaves behind a wonderful legacy in Ziggy, a hard-luck comics page hero who serves as a reflection of Tom's endearing wit and optimism in the face of adversity," he said.

Added Andrews McMeel CEO and president Hugh Andrews: "Tom Wilson had a unique gift for producing creations that stirred imaginations and touched people's lives."

Besides his son, Wilson is survived by his wife, Carol, and daughters Ava and Julie.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.