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Linus Maurer, inspiration behind 'Peanuts' character, dies at 90

Linus Maurer, whose friend Charles M. Schulz borrowed his first name for Charlie Brown's blanket-wielding friend in "Peanuts," has died at age 90.
/ Source: AP (Associated Press)

Linus Maurer, a cartoonist and illustrator whose old friend and colleague Charles M. Schulz borrowed his first name for Charlie Brown's blanket-wielding best friend Linus in his "Peanuts" comic strip and cartoons, has died at age 90.

Linus Maurer at a "Peanuts" event
The 'real' Linus, artist Linus Maurer, cuts a ribbon after unveiling a statue of Linus of 'Peanuts' comic strip fame during a ceremony at his hometown of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, back in 2003.John Cross / AP

Maurer died Jan. 29 in Sonoma, California, his longtime partner Mary Jo Starsiak told The Associated Press on Friday night. His exact cause of death was not clear, but he had struggled with Parkinson's disease and heart trouble late in life. About 65 years ago, Maurer and Schulz worked together at Art Instruction Schools Inc. in Minneapolis, when "Peanuts" was getting started.

Schulz told the story in a book celebrating "Peanuts'" 50th anniversary.

HAPPINESS IS A WARM BLANKET CHARLIE BROWN, Linus Van Pelt, 2011. © Warner Home Video / Courtesy: Everett Collection©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

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"Linus came from a drawing that I made one day of a face almost like the one he now has," Schulz wrote. "I experimented with some wild hair, and showed the sketch to a friend of mine who sat near me at art instruction, whose name was Linus Maurer. It seemed appropriate that I should name the character Linus."

It was a common practice for Schulz, who named many "Peanuts" characters, including Charlie Brown, after the people that surrounded him.

FILE - In this image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment, Linus, center, is shown with Charlie Brown and Lucy during a new animated webisode series for "The Peanuts". E.W. Scripps Co. said Tuesday, April 27, 2010 that it will sell the unit that owns the licensing rights to Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the rest of the "Peanuts" gang for $175 million to Joe Boxer owner Iconix Brand Group Inc.(AP Photo/Warner Bros. Entertainment, fILE) ** NO SALES **AP

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Schulz, who died in 2000, and Maurer remained lifelong friends, both settling in the same part of Northern California north of San Francisco later in life.

There, Maurer drew editorial cartoons for the Sonoma Index-Tribune, which first reported his death.

Maurer had a successful run with comics in his own right, with syndicated strips in the 1960s and 1970s called "Old Harrigan," ''Abracadabra" and "In the Beginning." He also created the "Challenger" puzzle that was syndicated in newspaper crossword sections.

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Before that, he had worked as an illustrator for IBM and AT&T in New York and as an art director for the McCann Erickson ad agency and Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco.