Norman Ray Bridwell, the author behind the classic childhood series, Clifford the Big Red Dog, died on Friday, Dec. 12, in Martha’s Vineyard. Bridwell was 86 years old. Scholastic Books spokeswoman Kyle Good confirmed his passing without revealing the nature of death. Norma, his wife of 56 years, told The Associated Press Bridwell battled with prostate cancer and had been hospitalized for the past three weeks. He suffered a fall at his home in Edgartown and was transported to the hospital.
Bridwell was born on Feb. 15, 1928, in Kokomo, Ind. Vern Bridwell, his father, worked in a factory, and Leona Bridwell, his mother, was a stay-at-home mom. Bridwell started drawing at an early age and after graduating high school, he went to Cooper Union in New York and John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis (now called the Herron School of Art and Design, part of Indiana University).
The author had a humble start as an unemployed commercial artist residing in New York City when he first shopped the concept of Clifford. The book was reminiscent of a childhood fantasy as a boy, and what started out as a single book about a canine big enough for his owner to ride like a bike quickly became a childhood sensation. According to the Globe in 2004, he shopped Clifford to roughly 10 publishers before getting picked up by Scholastic Books, his publisher.
On paper, Clifford came out to be about the size of a home. He was loving, somewhat aloof and always ready to help. He displayed the normal, less-than-desirable traits shared by many pups, such as digging up flowers and causing trouble. Clifford was the epitome of a kind, gentle spirit with a wet nose on four legs. The color of the dog was fortuitous. Bridwell just so happened to have had a jar full of red paint on his desk the day he designed Clifford. He initially wanted to call the dog “Tiny,” but his wife discouraged the obvious cliché, settling on “Clifford” after her childhood imaginary friend. Elizabeth, the little girl who owned Clifford, was named after their own daughter, Emily Elizabeth. Clifford, the big, red dog, will continue to live on in the eyes of children everywhere, even after the death of his author, Bridwell, from medical complications.
In 1963, he published his first Clifford book. It was a major success, and led to a string of Clifford books, including Clifford’s Family. From the onset, the books displayed children of different races and ethnicity. The books became a common staple in bedtime stories, and parents would frequently read the books to their children before they were able to read themselves. The books sold over 129 million copies worldwide and were translated into 13 different languages, according to the publisher. The books even inspired a full-length cartoon film and television series. The show was aired on PBS Kids between 2000 and 2003.The full-length film is scheduled to be released April 8, 2016.
The author of Clifford the Big Red Dog lives on through his wife, Norma; three grandchildren; his son, Timothy; and Emily Bridwell Merz, his daughter. Bridwell, completed two more Clifford installments before dying, which are scheduled to be published in 2015: Clifford Celebrates Hanukkah, to be released in October, and Clifford Goes to Kindergarten, which will be released in May.
By Stevenson Benoit
Photo by Read Every Day. Lead A Better Life. – Flickr License