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Bozo The Clown Actor Frank Avruch Dies At 89

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Sometimes you read an obituary and you learn not only about the person who died, but then you kind of end up down an illuminating rabbit hole.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: That happened today with Bozo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We knew the word went back to a clown.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Introducing Bozo.

CORNISH: But we didn't realize how many Bozos there have been. That discovery happened after we read that one longtime Bozo the Clown died this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BOZO THE CLOWN")

FRANK AVRUCH: (As Bozo the Clown, singing) I'm such a funny clown. I like to travel 'round and 'round...

CHANG: Frank Avruch died on Tuesday at the age of 89. He started playing Bozo on local TV in the Boston area in 1959 and did that for more than 10 years. He wore giant brown shoes and a wig that gave him wings of orange-red hair.

CORNISH: Avruch was the first syndicated Bozo, but he was not the first ever Bozo. And here's where we fall down a Bozo rabbit hole.

CHANG: It turns out an executive at Capitol Records created the character in the late 1940s.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PINTO COLVIG: (As Bozo the Clown) Hello, hello. This is Bozo the Clown again.

CHANG: And that voice is the first person to actually play Bozo, Pinto Colvig.

CORNISH: Several years later, a guy named Larry Harmon bought the rights to Bozo, played Bozo and trained dozens of other Bozos for local TV markets across the U.S.

CHANG: This is the version of events endorsed by the International Clown Hall of Fame, by the way. Over the years, bozo morphed into a pejorative term. But Larry Harmon, who died in 2008, once told NPR he didn't mind it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

LARRY HARMON: "Bozo's" the longest-running children's family show in the world and has created a positive influence for the families around the world for the last 50 years.

CORNISH: And those are your Bozo cliff notes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Bozo the Clown) We'll see you next time for more excitement here in the Bozo big top. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.