LOS ANGELES -- Talking toys have been around since at least 1960, when pull-the-string Chatty Cathy debuted. But Teddy Ruxpin, a cuddly teddy bear that hit stores in late 1985, marked a technological leap forward.
Created by then-Los Angeles resident Ken Forsse, the talking Teddy moved his mouth in sync, making him seem more lifelike. The effect was delightful and a bit creepy, and kids loved him.
"1986 and 1987 were insane; you could hardly find Teddy Ruxpin in stores, it was so popular," said toy expert Jim Silver.
Forsse, 77, died March 19 at home in the Orange County community of Laguna Woods. The cause was congestive heart failure, said Josh Isaacson, a friend of the family who has maintained a Teddy Ruxpin tribute website.
Teddy's reign as the top toy was relatively brief, ending in a mire of financial and legal troubles. But the gentle bear who told storybook adventures was instrumental in sparking a new category for the toy industry -- electronic plush. He still crops up in pop culture references on movies and TV shows.
"The slogan they used to advertise Teddy, 'A friend for life comes to life,' described aptly the friendship Teddy Ruxpin made with millions of children," Isaacson said.
Forsse, who served three years in the Army, and earlier in his career worked for Disney, developed technology for animated puppets in the early 1980s.
Teddy Ruxpin had a cassette player built into his back where specially designed tapes provided audio and drove motors in the doll's head to make facial moves. A deal was struck with the Silicon Valley company Worlds of Wonder to produce and sell the doll. The bear racked up $93 million in sales in a year and a spun-off daily animated TV show, "The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin," ran for 65 episodes.
But by 1987, the enterprise was coming off the rails. Worlds of Wonder, which had other toys on its roster, was in serious debt and eventually filed for bankruptcy. Forsse is survived by his wife, Jan; daughter Theresa Eversole; and son Christopher.