Ken Forsse, the creator of Teddy Ruxpin, Husband, Father, former Disney Imagineer and Animator, Dreamer, and Friend - passed away peacefully and without pain on Thursday, March 20th, 2014 at his home in Southern California at age 77.
Ken had a remarkable life and career, and I hope to post an official statement from his family soon, as well as memories from his friends and colleagues. This website in general will grow into a tribute to Ken and his life's work.
Below, I have posted my own tribute to Ken. We had a unique and remarkable friendship that spanned the final 15 years of his life, and I will be forever grateful to have known him and will miss him just as long. Please keep his family, friends and fellow Alchemists in your prayers during this difficult time.
Grainy VHS footage exists of the moment my friendship with Ken Forsse began – over a decade before he’d know my name or I could pronounce his. I usually give it a spin every Christmas. It’s good for a chuckle at the expense of the 1986 adults of the family (the hair and the clothes) but otherwise I don’t really need it to time travel the way I do with other home movies. My first encounter with Teddy Ruxpin is an indelible memory.
Like most other almost three year olds during Reagan’s second term, I had Teddy at the #1 spot on my Christmas list. The commercials advertised the technological advances this toy featured, and that would’ve been marketing enough – but there was something much deeper about Teddy’s aura, an innocence and wonder, visible even in thirty second advertisements, that made him the thing I couldn’t live without.
Santa Clause – donning the same glasses and NAVY tattoo as my Grandpa – delivered. In the middle of a pile of gifts waiting to be unwrapped, Teddy’s eyes glowed magically with Christmas light reflection as he asked if we could be friends. The man or woman who came up with Teddy’s slogan – A Friend for Life Comes To Life – described that moment aptly.
Over the next several years, as promised at the beginning of The Airship story – Teddy and I had lots of good times together. In what was at times a difficult childhood, Teddy allowed me to escape to a world of happiness and adventure. The good guys were altruistic and loyal friends. Bad guys were known for exactly what they were, and at the end of the day didn’t win. Ken’s characters had passion and held convictions, cared for one another, and genuinely fell in love. Other than my family and spiritual beliefs, there is no greater influence on my life, how I view the world, and how I wish it could be – than his creations.
From a young age I wanted to be a part of something as meaningful to others as Teddy was to me, and Ken became my hero. I knew very little about him and as the years rolled by into the age of the Internet, I began trying to find out more information about Ken and Teddy’s history. In the summer of 1998, I taught myself enough coding skills to make a passable website and what is now called Teddy Ruxpin Online was created in hopes of finding out more information and meeting fellow fans.
Teddy’s theme song talks about good dreams coming true, and mine certainly did. About a year into the production of the website, I was contacted by Mr. & Mrs. Forsse and began a correspondence that lasted three years. When we were able to meet in person in 2002, I found that my friendship with Ken had really begun when I was befriended by Teddy. Teddy’s virtues were described by the six crystals that were the centerpiece of his story. Imagination, Trust, Bravery, Honesty, Friendship and Freedom. These were all qualities Ken manifested, some even more so than his fictional creations. The transition from acquaintanceship to friendship was seamless because the first time we sat down together and talked, Ken seemed like an old friend. In a situation rivaled only by a couple others I can think of – Steve Whitmire writing a fan letter to Jim Henson and then becoming the voice of Kermit the Frog, for instance – I found the person I believed in for all these years also believed in me. Ken encouraged me with a doubtless spirit and esteem much higher than I held for myself. I’ve yet to accomplish anything worth the faith Ken had in me, but I know if I’m ever able to I will owe much of it to him. His life, the way he lived it and it’s accomplishments made my own infinitely better.
I tried for years to aptly tell Ken this – and one of the moments I’ll always cherish most from our friendship was the time I was finally able to. In 2011 while sitting across from him at a BBQ restaurant, (me inhaling my ribs, Ken taking his in the way he did everything in life, more slowly with enjoyment, and likely thinking of an invention that would make them taste even better) I told him how much Teddy meant to me, how much his friendship meant to me, and how I wouldn’t be the same person without him. He humbly responded that it validated his life’s work to know that was true.
Teddy became a sensation because Ken was an innovator. He became a friend for life because of Ken’s creativity, heart, leadership and eye for choosing other talented people of the same spirit to help him dream his dream. Ken will forever be my friend and hero because he honestly lived the golden rule, and held to the values of Freedom, Imagination, Trust, Bravery, Honesty and Friendship not only in fiction but also in reality. He lived his passions, dreamed, created, loved and allowed himself to be loved in return – and found a partner of tantamount treasure in his wife and partner Jan. I can only dream my life will be half as well lived.