G.I. Joe creator Don Levine died of cancer early Thursday at Home & Hospice Care of Rhode Island. He and his wife Nan were near their 60th wedding anniversary.
Levine guided the action figure through the design and development stages as Hasbro’s head of research and development. He lead the team that created the original 11½-inch articulated figure with 21 moving parts. Since the company’s employees included many military veterans, it was decided that the figures would wear the uniforms of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and would be equipped with accessories such as guns, helmets and vehicles. These large G.I. Joe figures also featured “lifelike hair” and their trademark “kung-fu grip.”
Levine, who served in the Army in Korea, said he got the idea for the articulated figure as a way to honor veterans.
G.I. Joe landed on shelves during the 1964 Christmas shopping season and became a big seller at $4 apiece. However, the toy began to lose popularity in the late 1960s as opposition to the Vietnam War intensified and parents shied away from military-themed toys. Hasbro countered in 1970 by introducing Adventure Team. This new wave of G.I. Joes played down the military connection by equipping the figures with such gear as explorer’s clothing for discovering mummies, and scuba gear to save the oceans.
Over the decades G.I. Joe has continued to recruit fans. The 1980s saw the the toy line reimagined as a massive line of 3 3/4 inch figures with special accessories. Many vehicles and play sets were also created for the line of action figures. This Joe line accompanied a popular cartoon series and comic book line. At the height of its popularity G.I. Joe was given an animated movie.
G.I. Joe became a pop culture icon that remains popular today. There have been different iterations of action figures, cartoons, comic books, games, and more recently two live-action movies. The property even has its own convention, G.I. JoeCon.
Levine’s funeral will be held Sunday morning at Temple Beth-El in Providence. He is survived by his wife, three children and four grandchildren.