The King of the Gummy Bears is dead

File photo of gummy bear (gummibaerchen) sweets made by the German manufacturer Haribo in Dortmund August 25, 2013. Hans Riegel, the man behind German...
File photo of gummy bear (gummibaerchen) sweets made by the German manufacturer Haribo. Hans Riegel, the man behind the candy company, has died at the age of 90.INA FASSBENDER / Today

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His legacy will be the Gummy Bear -- and the smiles of kids the world over.

Hans Riegel, the man behind Gummy Bears -- the chewy sweets beloved of children (and adults) -- has died at the age of 90 from heart failure, his office said on Tuesday. 

Riegel spent almost 70 years at the helm of Haribo, a candy and confectionary company in Bonn, Germany, which was founded by his father in 1920. From a small firm struggling with the shortages of post-war Germany, he built it into a world famous brand exporting to 100 countries. 

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Riegel had made Haribo such a global brand that "wherever I traveled in recent years, the gummy bears had arrived long before me." 

Haribo, short for Hans Riegel Bonn, came to epitomize Germany's highly successful Mittelstand - the small, actively-managed firms which made up the backbone of the "economic miracle" that brought the country from the brink of devastation after World War Two to become one of the world's leading industrial forces.

Picture taken on October 22, 2009 shows Hans Riegel, chairman of German confectionery company Haribo, standing in front of his plant in Bonn, Germany. ROLF VENNENBERND / Today

Fruit-flavored gummy bears were originally called dancing bears, inspired by the performing brown bears that once appeared at circuses and fetes. The fierce expression on their faces was replaced with a smile in a 2007 makeover. 

The Bonn-based candy maker employed 6,000 people in 15 sites worldwide. According to Forbes, Riegel had a net worth of $2.9 billion, putting him at No.32 on Germany's richest list. 

"I work because it makes me happy, and I have no reason to deny myself that happiness," Riegel said in a interview in 2010. 

He underwent a successful operation earlier this year to remove a brain tumor.

Haribo gave Germany its most famous advertising slogan, promising to make kids happy -- and grownups, too.

Packets of the sweets -- in all kinds of animal forms now -- are ubiquitous: doctors keep them on hand to placate crying children and hotels place them on pillows as guest treas. 

"Thank you Hans Riegel, for making our lives sweeter!" fan Kilian Muth posted on the Haribo Germany facebook page.