Charles Schulz in 1997 (AP Photo / Ben Margot)
Peanuts creator Charles Schulz would have turned 90 today. Even though he died Feb. 12, 2000, more than 12 years ago, his comics and holiday television specials are still loved by children – and by the young at heart. As we prepare to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas this season, here are 20 facts about Schulz's life and career.
1. Charles Monroe Schulz was born Nov. 26, 1922, in Minneapolis, Minn., but grew up across the river in St. Paul. The family nickname for him was "Sparky."
2. A drawing he did of his family dog, Spike, was published in the Ripley's Believe it Or Not! comic book when Schulz was a young man.
3. Schulz was an outstanding early student, skipping 2 and 1/2 grades in elementary school.
4. In high school, his drawings were rejected for inclusion in the yearbook.
5. During World War II, he served as an Army sergeant with the 20th Armored Division in Europe.
6. After the war, Schulz worked as a teacher for Art Instruction Inc., which offered a correspondence course in how to draw cartoons (he'd formerly been one of their students).
7. Charlie Brown, Linus and Frieda are all based on co-workers at Art Instruction, Inc. The "Little Red-Haired Girl" – Charlie Brown's great unrequited love – is based on an accountant Schulz fell in love with named Donna Johnson.
8. Schulz and Johnson dated for three years, but when he proposed she rejected him and married a fireman. Schulz called it "a bitter blow" but the two remained friends throughout life.
9. Schulz's first regular cartoon, Li'l Folks, appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press beginning in 1947 when Schulz was 24. The comic acted as a sort of Peanuts prototype – a boy named Charlie Brown, a dog that looked like Snoopy, a little kid with a fondness for Beethoven – but Schulz discontinued it after three years when the paper refused to offer him a raise.
10. Later that year, United Feature Syndicate agreed to publish the strip as Peanuts, a title Schulz himself never liked.
11. The strip made its first appearance on Oct. 2, 1950. It was an instant success.
12. In 1951 Schulz moved to Colorado Springs, Col., where he married Joyce Halverson (the two would later divorce in 1972). He moved the family back to Minneapolis the following year. Schulz would also live in Sebastopol, Calif.
13. By 1952 the first Sunday Peanuts strip was published and Schulz's work was being featured in 40 newspapers nationwide. At its peak, it would appear in more than 2,600 papers in 75 countries at its peak.
14. During Peanuts' run from 1950 to 2000, Schulz allowed himself only one vacation, taking a five-week break in 1997.
15. Among Schulz's many awards, he was inducted into the National Hockey Hall of Fame for his devotion to the sport. Schulz often featured ice skating and hockey in his strips, he played in senior tournaments, and he owned an ice rink in Santa Rosa, Calif. (the rink's snack bar is called "The Warm Puppy").
16. In 1999 he was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent chemotherapy. He announced his retirement on The Today Show.
17. Though in interviews Schulz maintained he would never allow Charlie Brown to kick that football, near the end of his life he expressed some regret for never giving him this chance.
18. Schulz died in his sleep Feb. 12, 2000, at 9:45 p.m. He was 77.
19. The last of his completed strips was published the following morning.
20. On May 27, 2000, 105 cartoonists nationwide, including artists behind such works as The Boondocks, Hi and Lois, Blondie and Dilbert, paid tribute to Schulz by including Peanuts references in their works.