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Last surviving 'Wizard of Oz' munchkin, Jerry Maren, dies at 98

Maren was part of the Lollipop Guild in the iconic 1939 film.
/ Source: TODAY

Jerry Maren, who played a munchkin in 1939's classic "The Wizard of Oz," has died. He was the last surviving munchkin from the film, and was 98.

Jerry Maren attending a "Wizard of Oz" 70th anniversary gala in New York in 2009. AP

The Los Angeles Times confirms that he died on May 24 in a San Diego nursing home of congestive heart failure, but that he had suffered from dementia for several years.

The 4-foot, 3-inch actor played a tough Lollipop Guild member who hands Dorothy an oversized lollipop in the film. He was the longest-lived little person among many who appeared in the film: town crier Mickey Carroll died at 89 in 2009; "flowerpot" munchkin, Margaret Pellegrini, died in 2013 at 89; and the last female munchkin, Ruth Robinson Duccini, died in 2014 at 95.

Maren was his stage name; he'd been born as Gerard Marenghi in Boston on January 24, 1920. He was the youngest in a family of 10, and the only little person. After working in vaudeville, he responded to the call from MGM for "Oz" and moved to Hollywood. During World War II he performed for wounded soldiers on USO tours.

We wish to welcome you to Munchkin Land: Jerry Maren offers a ceremonial lollipop to Dorothy (Judy Garland) in "The Wizard of Oz."Hulton Archive/Getty Images

"Jerry was sometimes a quirky little guy," biographer Stephen Cox, who authored "Short and Sweet: The Life and Times of the Lollipop Munchkin" and "The Munchkins of Oz" told the Times. "He was extremely generous, especially with other little people. He wanted to see them succeed and stay afloat and he didn't want to hear about his friends being in crisis."

Maren was a trailblazer in Hollywood, helping to found Little People of America. He went on to appear in almost 100 other films and commercials, playing McDonald's Mayor McCheese and the Hamburglar. He even had a brief part in "Seinfeld's" "Yada Yada" episode.

"Hey, I'm a normal human being," he told the Times in 1993. "All of us little people are. Some are wiseguys. Some are a pain in the ass, just like the bigger folks. All the world is represented in little people."

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