Thunderbirds Creator Gerry Anderson Dead at 83

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Gerry Anderson

Gerry Anderson

Gerry Anderson, the creator of such British marionette-animated hit shows as Thunderbirds, Stingray and Joe 90, died peacefully in his sleep at noon Wednesday, son Jamie announced on his own Web site. He was 83.

Anderson had Alzheimer’s since 2010. Having already decided with his family on a care home for himself near Oxfordshire, England earlier this year, he moved in there in October.

“Gerry was diagnosed with mixed dementia two years ago, and his condition worsened quite dramatically over the past six months,” Jamie Anderson wrote.

Gerry Anderson’s most famous series — science-fiction series Thunderbirds, about a space rescue squad — ran from 1965 to 1966. It had two movie spin-offs, Thunderbirds are Go (1966) and Thunderbird Six (1967).

His other animated series included Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967-68) and Terrahawks (1983-84). There were also unreleased projects, such as the series The Investigator (1972) and Space Police Star Laws (1986).

As well, the resident of Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire created UFO, Space: 1999, Supercar and Fireball XL5.

“I think a light has gone out in the universe,” said actor Brian Blessed, who worked with Anderson on such shows as The Day After Tomorrow and Space 1999, told BBC News:

“He had a great sense of humor,” he told British Broadcasting Corporation News. “He wasn’t childish but childlike, and he had a tremendous love of the universe and astronomy and scientists. He got their latest theories, which he would expand on. He was always galvanized and full of energy.”

Comedian Eddie Izzard wrote on Twitter: “What great creation Thunderbirds was, as it fuelled the imagination of a generation.” Added TV host Jonathan Ross wrote: “For men of my age, his work made childhood an incredible place to be.”

Anderson was born Gerald Alexander Abrahams in London’s Bloomsbury district on April 14, 1929. He started studying fibrous plastering, but it gave him dermatitis and he had to stop.

For a while, he did photographic portraits. Anderson also worked at Gainsborough Films and as an air traffic controller.

With friends, he founded AP Films. But with few commissions, he jumped at the chance of making the puppet series The Adventures of Twizzle in 1956.

Then came his career high point, Thunderbirds, which aired on Britain’s ITV.

Filmed on Slough Trading Estate in Berkshire, the series told of emergency service International Rescue, operated by the Tracy family. It was often aided by Lady Penelope (voiced by Gerry Anderson’s wife Sylvia) and Parker, her butler. The Andersons had used Fireball XL5 and Stingray to perfect their “supermarionation” technique.

“Thunderbirds are go!” was the show’s catchphrase.

In June this year, Anderson talked about getting dementia.

“I don’t think I realized at all,” he said on BBC Berkshire. “It was my wife Mary who began to notice that I would do something quite daft like putting the kettle in the sink and waiting for it to boil.”

Until very recently, Anderson remained interested and involved in the film industry, keen to revisit some of his earlier successes using the latest technology available. His last producer credit came in 2005 on New Captain Scarlet, a CGI-animated reimagining of his 1967 Supermarionation series, which premiered on ITV. Most recently, he worked as a consultant on a Hollywood remake of his 1969 series UFO, directed by Matthew Gratzner.

He was “a quiet, unassuming but determined man,” said Nick Williams, chairman of Fanderson, the official Gerry Anderson fan club.

“His desire to make the best films he could drove him and his talented teams to innovate, take risks, and do everything necessary to produce quite inspirational works,” he said. “Gerry’s legacy is that he inspired so many people and continues to bring so much joy to so many millions of people around the world.”

He also worked as a celebrity ambassador for The Alzheimer’s Society, helping to raise awareness of the disease and much-needed funds for the society.

Harry Oakes, the cinematographer for Thunderbirds and several other Anderson series, died December 11 this year.

Gerry Anderson was married to Betty Wrightman from 1952 until their divorce in 1960. That year, he married Sylvia Thamm; they divorced in 1980. In 1981, he married Mary Robins.

Besides his wife and son Jamie, he is survived by three children from former marriages, Joy, Linda and Gerry Junior.

Fanderson will pay a full tribute to Gerry Anderson in FAB 74, due next March.

Donations in his memory to the Alzheimer’s Society were requested via www.justgiving.com/RememberingGerryAnderson.

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