Don Levine, the executive credited with creating the original line of G.I. Joe figures, has died at the age of 86, according to THR. Levine leaves behind his wife of 60 years, Nan, three children, four grandchildren, and endless memories among the world’s boys and girls of pitched battles between tough guy G.I. Joe and the forces of evil.
The original line of G.I. Joe figures made action heroes out of members of America’s armed forces, with a line of 11.5-inch toys based on the servicemen of the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force, each equipped with their own weapons and gear for a host of backyard adventures before getting lost or sucked up into a vacuum cleaner. Levine is the guy who’s responsible, in part, for the use of the phrase “action figure,” Hasbro’s way around getting boys to play with doll-sized toys without actually calling them dolls.
While popular in the ’60s, it took the Vietnam war to skyrocket Levine’s creation into the popular consciousness in a big way, as Hasbro tried to distance themselves from the war toys aspect of Joe, rebranding the line as The Adventures of G.I. Joe, a brawnier figure (with a full-on beard) gifted with that iconic kung-fu grip. This is the one that Baby Boomers remember, a tribute to the kinds of action heroes you might see in American International Pictures‘ output from that era.
That version of the character would pave the way for the ’80s-friendly incarnation of G.I. Joe, in the “Real American Hero” line, featuring the heroes of the Joes versus the weird and often goofy villains of the international criminal organization of Cobra, spawning multiple cartoon series and a pair of semi-okay movies.
But for a generation of fans, Levine’s legacy will always be hours of imaginary adventures with the guy with the realistic hair and kung fu grip.