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Robert Ripley Passes Out on His 13th TV Show; Dies Three Days Later on May 27, 1949 – Believe It or Not!


Believe It or Not! creator was among the first to have regularly scheduled weekly TV show

World explorer, writer, illustrator and media pioneer Robert Ripley, died 60 years ago, on Friday, May 27, 1949.

In true Ripley fashion, his final exit was a true Believe It or Not! He was among the first to have a regularly scheduled television program in 1949 and it was on his 13th show, on  May 24 that America last saw the great showman. That show was dedicated to showing off his priceless collection of Crown Jewels from Europe but it also featured a short sketch about the true story behind the world’s most famous bugle call, Taps.

Toward the end of the program, during the playing of Taps, Ripley grew weary, passed out and fell to the floor. The show was not over and he couldn’t continue. Ripley resisted all efforts to take him to the hospital and it wasn’t until 12 hours later that he sought medical attention by checking himself into the hospital, where he died three days later.

The funeral service took place in NYC, just off Broadway, and thousands lined the streets to watch as his body was taken to the train depot to be sent by rail back to his native California. An additional prayer service was held in the Church of One Tree, in Santa Rosa, and he was buried in that city’s Oddfellows cemetery. 

Claim to Fame

Ripley illustrated his first Believe It or Not! cartoon in 1918 and he soon became a household name, worldwide. He was a star of radio and newsreels for nearly two decades. At the time of Ripley’s death, his popular cartoon was running in nearly 350 newspapers worldwide and his books were consistently on the best seller lists.

Everyone seemed to know Robert Ripley. His 14 years on his own radio show and his guest appearances on many more during his long career, plus his cartoon, had made him a star throughout the world. In 1936, in a National Newspaper Assoc. poll, Americans voted Ripley as their favorite American. Roosevelt came in second! For Ripley to be among the first to star in his own show in the new medium of television was a natural. His show, Believe It or Not! was among the first regularly scheduled weekly shows on NBC.

Ripley was always able to get a rise out of readers, and the media as well, from his absolutely unbelievable (but always true) facts in his cartoons, such as:

• Ripley’s cartoon in 1929 stating that the United States had no official anthem was responsible for the Star Spangled Banner being adopted by Congress.
• Ripley predicted the exact hour and minute of Adolph Hitler’s Death!
• In 1927 he stated that Lindbergh was not the first man to fly the Atlantic non-stop, but the 67th. (Two dirigibles, carrying 64 men, and Brown and Alcock had made the flights prior to 1927)
• It was Ripley who proved that a president of the US slept through his entire term of office.
• He proved that Columbus did not discover America
• He was first to call it to the attention of the world that George Washington was not the first president of the United States.

Sixty years after his death, his legacy still lives on in newspapers, books, odditoriums, television shows, films, a popular website, and in one of the most popular and oft repeated phrases in the English language: Believe It or Not!

The company that bears his name, Ripley Entertainment Inc., is now the global authority on the weird, strange and bizarre. Nearly 13 million people visit Ripley Entertainment’s 73 businesses each year and the company still sells more than a million books annually. The popular cartoon series that started it all, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! continues to run daily in nearly 200 newspapers in 42 countries.

Today, Ripley Entertainment Inc., ( the quirky company spawned from that first Believe It or Not! cartoon in 1918 is a worldwide leader in family attractions, offering up 10 different brands of attractions, ranging from the original Believe It or Not! to wax museums, world class aquariums and the popular Great Wolf Lodge Niagara Falls, Canada, an indoor waterpark resort. The company’s diverse menu of attractions is today as diverse as Ripley’s wanderlust and his travels during the first part of the 20th century. 

See also:
RIPLEY’S: Move Over ‘Smart Car’, ‘World’s smallest Car’ Line Arrives in New York
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Wisconsin Dells To Host Exhibit of Fertility Statues in March
The “Unofficial” Portrait of President Obama is now on Display at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Orlando
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! in Myrtle Beach offers Unbelievable Wedding event in February

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