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.