Laurent de Brunhoff, artist who made Babar the elephant famous, dies at 98

Laurent de Brunhoff, the French artist and author who popularized a cartoon elephant king who ruled in children’s literature and entertainment for decades, died Friday at his home in Key West, Fla., the Associated Press reported, citing his widow, Phyllis Rose. He was 98 years old.

Mr. de Brunhoff used his skills as a writer and painter to bring international fame to Babar the elephant, an adventurous and family-oriented character created by his parents.

Mr. de Brunhoff’s mother, Cécile de Brunhoff, came up with the story of an anthropomorphic elephant who escaped from a hunter and created a new life in the city as a bedtime story. Mr. de Brunhoff and his brother told the story to their father, who was a painter. He began illustrating a book starring the character for his sons.

Jean de Brunhoff published the first book, “The Story of Babar,” in 1931. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 37, when Laurent was 12 years old.

“The way my mother inspired Babar is absolutely amazing,” Mr. de Brunhoff recalled in an interview with Barnes & Noble, posted online more than 15 years ago. He decided to carry on the elephant’s legacy shortly after World War II, when he was 20.

“Babar was still my friend, and I loved him,” he said in the interview, adding that he enjoyed “the idea of making a story to help him go on living.”

He said he tried “to be the most faithful to the style of my father, and I’ve done that for 50 years.”

Often donning a green suit, Babar has gone on numerous adventures through dozens of children’s books spanning the 1930s to the late 2010s; he has learned yoga, spoken German, attended a circus, encountered a ghost and even ventured out of France to visit the United States. Mr. de Brunhoff described him as a humble ruler and a father figure, once telling the New York Times in an interview: “He’s a king, but not a monarch.”

Babar also starred in several films and at least two television series, including an animated English-language show called “Babar and the Adventures of Badou,” which aired from 2010 to at least 2015.

Mr. de Brunhoff moved from France to the United States in the 1980s and lived in Middletown, Conn., as well as New York City and Florida. In 1985, he married Rose, a Wesleyan University professor and writer. He also had two children from a previous marriage.

In interviews, Mr. de Brunhoff often spoke of his career success in simple terms and with humility. In celebration of Babar’s 80th anniversary more than a decade ago, he told the New York Times that his father would be pleased that the character outlived him.


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