The Voice of Tigger Dies

July 23, 2005  

I was saddened to learn that Paul Winchell passed away June 26th. He is best known as the voice of Tigger on the Winnie the Pooh cartoons. For over six decades, he was a master ventriloquist, brining dummies Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff to life on television. He was also an inventor who held 30 patents, including one for an early artificial heart that he built in 1963.

He contracted polio at age 6. In his biography, Winch, Winchell describes himself as a shy child with a speech impediment who was frequently beaten by his overbearing mother. He found sanctuary from his often grim home life by listening to the radio, especially the comedy of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, whom Winchell began to emulate after buying a book on ventriloquism at age 12. When he began trying out his act on classmates, using a dummy he constructed as a school art project, the socially awkward youth discovered that his talent made him popular for the first time. He found a true passion. And, as he learned to throw his voice, he gradually overcame his speech impediment.

This is someone who truly embraced his “limits” and used them as a source of power. His ventriloquism and voices entertained the world. As he once wrote on his website when he first learned to throw his voice, “Suddenly I had found my place in the sun.” It’s hard to believe that a man who was the voice of Tigger, Gargamel in “The Murfs”, and Boomer in “The Fox and the Hound”, once stuttered.

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One Response to “The Voice of Tigger Dies”

  1. Rosario on January 24th, 2006 8:41 am

    Steve, I love this story, as I love all the stories that speak of the strenght of human character, of moving beyond limitations by just rendering to what really fires the soul, to what gives heart and meaning to one’s life. Recently, I watched on TV an interview with Nadia Adame, a Spanish performer, choreographer and teacher of integrative dance, who is on purpose introducing this transforming type of art in Spain to break down barriers of prejudice on disability. Nadia started to study dance when she was five. She was so passionate about it that spent extra hours resenting somehow her school studies. At fourteen she had a car accident that caused her an spinal injure with permanent inmovility of her lower half of the body up to the present. She never gave up either her love for dance, or her picturing herself as a dancer. After going through surgery at least five times plus lots of rehabilitation over the years, she gathered back self-confidance to carry on with her dream to practice and teach dance. She had to move to the USA to pursude further studies and to benefit from better educational and professional opportunities to work “with” her condition. She performed there and in 2004 won the Isadora Duncan award for the Best Group Performance, in recognition of her duet with a fellow dancer. She came back to Spain two years ago to create her own company and is moving gracely in the arts and media landscape speaking up in a way that commands respect for her very incredible and courageous journey. The journey of an indomitable spirit. Witnessing the sentiment and fluidity of her movements in a few images on TV was a real gift. The confident use that she makes of her crutch as an intimate partner in the dance clearly reflects how she embraced and married her physical challenge to transform it in a delicate piece that reflects the beauty of both, her art and her soul. Despite her inability to move her lower body, she minimises her physical difficulties by saying “To pursude a career in dance requires much perseverance and dedication. With or without disability”. And she does not pretend it does not matter. She truly reflects that it does not matter in the joyful spark of her eyes and the easy smile in her beautiful face, which transmit that she is living the life that she had dreamed in her childhood. I think that her example adds to the Paul Winchell’s portrait that you share, because Paul completely overcame his physical handicap while Nadia overcame the meantal handicap of doubting that her life was over because her physical disability would remain forever. As I do not have the pleasure to have heard Paul -is not part of my childhood cultural memories-, I imagine, anyway, that his mastery had to exudate a kind of joyful and contagious quality, similar to Nadia mischievous smile. In both cases, revealing a secret alliance with the mystery. I have heard that in the USA, the people who support financially the arts are called “angels”, and Nadia received much support from several of them. I whish that you are finding many “angels” along your road trip, and that they open pathways for you to further diseminate the “art” of creative living for people to risk to embrace mischievously their own limits.