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People Top 5
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- October 02, 1995
- Vol. 45
- No. 14
The King of Pop
Orville Redenbacher Was Popcorn's Own Kernel Sanders
The answer: yes—and vigorous to the end. When the 88-year-old entrepreneur died of a heart attack in his Coronado, Calif., condominium on Sept. 19, "it came as a real shock to us," says his grandson Gary, 40, who had appeared in more than 100 TV commercials with him. Indeed, the twice-widowed Orville, survived by two daughters, 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, had planned to go to Yosemite National Park with his family next week. "He's in heaven now," says daughter Billie At wood, 65, "so he can go wherever he wants."
Redenbacher's journey began on a farm just outside Brazil, Ind. (pop. 7,640) in 1907. As a teenager, he once said, "I'd plant [popcorn]...and take it to the grocery store to sell it." But selling his expensive hybrid, which took 24 years to perfect, was less simple. He and a partner eventually made millions producing liquid fertilizer, but no one was interested in his popcorn. And so in 1970, Redenbacher hired a Chicago marketing firm to come up with a sales gimmick. They did: Orville himself. Orville Redenbacher's Gourmet Popping Corn made him famous—but not superrich. He made only $350,000 when he sold his company to Hunt-Wesson Inc. in 1975. It was a deal he later regretted, but he still delighted in selling the product. "Popcorn," says Gary, "was his passion."
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