Paul Winchell, the longtime voice of Tigger in "Winnie the Pooh" features, and also a versatile ventriloquist, has died. He was 82. Mr. Winchell died early Friday in...

Share story

Paul Winchell, the longtime voice of Tigger in “Winnie the Pooh” features, and also a versatile ventriloquist, has died. He was 82.

Mr. Winchell died early Friday in his sleep at his home in Moorpark, Calif., Burt Du Brow, a television producer and close family friend, said Saturday.

Mr. Winchell became the lovable Tigger in 1968 for Disney’s “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day,” which earned an Academy Award for best animated short film.

Winchell continued to voice A.A. Milne’s imaginative little tiger on television and the big screen through “Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving” in 1999. In recent years, Jim Cummings has voiced Tigger as well as Pooh.

Mr. Winchell earned a Grammy in 1974 for the best children’s recording with “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers” from the feature “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too.” In addition, he was nominated for an Annie award for the 1998 animated feature-length “Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin.”

It was Mr. Winchell, crediting his British-born wife, who came up with Tigger’s signature phrase: “TTFN” or “Ta-ta for now.”

The entertainer also was heard as Gargamel in “The Smurfs”; as Dick Dastardly in Hanna Barbera cartoons, including “Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines”; and as Boomer in Disney’s “The Fox and the Hound,” among many others.

As a ventriloquist, Mr. Winchell became a fixture in early children’s television along with his dummies Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff.

Born Paul Wilchen in New York City on Dec. 21, 1922, he was a shy youth who stuttered. Fascinated with ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy pal, Charlie McCarthy, Mr. Winchell learned to throw his own voice and gradually overcame his speech impediments.

“Ventriloquism is closely related to magic,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 1999. “It’s all about misdirection. You practice speaking from your diaphragm and low in your throat. You substitute letters for ‘B’ and ‘P’ that allow you to speak without moving your lips.”

He debuted on NBC in 1947 with “The Paul Winchell-Jerry Mahoney Show,” with a smart-mouthed puppet he had invented in his early teens.

He created the dim-witted Knucklehead Smiff in 1950 and introduced him on “The Spiedel Show,” which quickly was renamed “What’s My Name?”

He also hosted a string of children’s shows through the 1950s and 1960s, and appeared on many variety shows, including Ed Sullivan’s show and “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.”

He published a book, “Ventriloquism for Fun and Profit,” in 1954.

As variety shows began losing their luster in the 1960s, Mr. Winchell segued into a new career voicing animated characters, beginning with various roles for the 1962 futuristic television series “The Jetsons.”

He also was an inventor who held 30 patents, including one for an early artificial heart he built in 1963.

Mr. Winchell’s other inventions were an early disposable razor, a flameless cigarette lighter, an invisible garter belt and an indicator to show when frozen food had gone bad after a power outage.

Mr. Winchell is survived by his wife of 31 years, the former Jean Freeman; five children; and three grandchildren.