Oscar-Winning illustrator, film director, and animator Gene Deitch died in his Prague apartment Thursday night at the age of 95. No cause of death was given.
His Czech publisher, Petr Himmel, confirmed the news to The Associated Press that Deitch died “unexpectedly” during the night from Thursday to Friday.
Deitch was best known for animating cartoons like “Tom Terrific,” and “Nudnik.” He also worked on a number of “Popeye the Sailor” series from 1960 to 1963 and directed more than a dozen “Tom & Jerry” episodes.
Before his animating career and after he graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1942, Deitch worked and drew sketches for major American aerospace company North American Aviation in 1943 but was later discharged for medical reasons.
Deitch later tried to get success in the music industry as an audio engineer with “Connie Converse,” one of the first American singer-songwriters, which he also eventually abandoned.
He started his training as an animator in 1955 and later became the creative director of “Terrytoons,” under 20th Century Fox where he created characters such as “Sidney the Elephant” and the “Tom Terrific” series.
A few years later in 1958, the cartoon “Sidney’s Family Tree,” which he co-produced, was nominated for an Academy Award.
Deitch also won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1960 with the movie “Munro.” He was also nominated for the same award twice in 1964 for “Here’s Nudnik” and “How to Avoid Friendship.”
In 2004, he received the Winsor McCay Award for his lifelong contribution to animation.
Born in Illinois, Chicago on Aug. 8, 1924, Deitch moved to California as a child.
He moved to Prague later in 1959 and fell in love with his future wife, Zdenka, and stayed in the Czechoslovakian capital.
Deitch created over 70 animated films and seven TV series while he lived in Prague with his wife.
During three decades of the Czech Republic’s Communist Party dictatorship, Deitch captured the communist lifestyle and after the 1989 anti-communist Velvet Revolution in his memoirs “For the Love of Prague,” describing himself as “the only free American living and working in Prague during 30 years of the Communist Party dictatorship.”
Despite his status, Deitch said authorities almost never interrupted him with his work. Only in 1969, the short film “The Giants” was banned in the country, comicbook reported.
Deitch is survived by his wife and by three sons from his first marriage, all of whom are cartoonists and illustrators.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.