Dick Wilson, a character actor who turned “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin” into a national catchphrase as exasperated shopkeeper Mr. Whipple in the TV commercial campaign that ran for more than two decades, has died. He was 91.
Wilson died Monday of natural causes at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, announced Procter & Gamble Co., maker of Charmin tissue.
From 1964 to 1985, and again in 1999, Wilson portrayed Mr. Whipple in more than 500 commercials for the toilet paper.
The first ad was filmed in Flushing, N.Y., a bit of trivia that the former stand-up comedian liked to share in interviews.
The commercials typically feature giddy, middle-age women who enter his store and cannot resist squeezing the soft Charmin rolls, despite his protests. Then, when nobody is looking, Whipple can’t help himself and hugs a package of the toilet paper.
Wilson knew the premise was silly but told the Chicago Tribune in 1985: “What are you going to say about toilet paper? I think we handle it the best way we can.”
In a statement, Dennis Legault, brand manager for Charmin, called the Mr. Whipple character “one of the most recognizable faces in the history of American advertising.”
Wilson was so well-known as Mr. Whipple that he ranked as the third-most-recognized American in a 1978 poll, behind former President Richard Nixon and evangelist Billy Graham, Indiana’s Fort Wayne News Sentinel reported in 2001.
Procter & Gamble eventually replaced the Whipple ads with cartoon bears. When Whipple returned in 1999, he was shown coming out of retirement against the advice of his buddies for one more chance to peddle Charmin.
Born in England in 1916, Wilson moved to Canada as a child. His father performed in vaudeville and his mother was a singer.
After graduating from the Ontario College of Art & Design in Toronto with a degree in sculpture, he designed scenery for a dancing school. Paid in dance lessons, he became a comedic acrobatic dancer and performed in vaudeville for 20 years, according to Procter & Gamble.
He acted onstage and appeared in dozens of television shows and movies, including starring in “The Better Home Show” on ABC in 1951. Often, he had guest roles in Westerns and sitcoms, and he was a regular on “Bewitched” and “McHale’s Navy.”
His film career lasted more than 30 years and included the Don Knotts movies “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” (1966) and “The Shakiest Gun in the West” (1968). In one of his final roles, Wilson played a store manager in “The Incredible Shrinking Woman” (1981).
During World War II, Wilson served in the Canadian Air Force and became a U.S. citizen in 1954, the Associated Press reported.
He beat out 33 other candidates for the Mr. Whipple role and often expressed gratitude for his commercial career.
With “the kind of pictures they’re making today,” Wilson told the Associated Press in 1985, “I’ll stick with toilet paper.”
Wilson is survived by his wife, Meg, who lives in the Los Angeles area; his daughter, Melanie, an actress who appeared on the ABC sitcom “Perfect Strangers"; another daughter, Wendy; a son, Stuart; and five grandchildren.