Hercules (bear)

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Hercules (1975 – 4 February 2000) [1] was a trained grizzly bear from Scotland who appeared in a number of cameo roles for various television productions, reaching the height of his popularity in the 1980s. He was owned by wrestler Andy Robin and his wife, Maggie, who originally bought him from The Highland Wildlife Park in Kingussie, south of Aviemore, as a cub in 1976. Andy, having wrestled a bear in Maple Leaf Gardens in 1968 for money, hit upon the idea of adopting his own bear to create a star. The wildlife park was unable to rehouse newly-born cubs and sold one to Andy for £50, allowing him to take the cub home that September once he was old enough to leave his mother.

Early popularity[edit]

Hercules first appeared with Andy in his act on the UK wrestling circuit in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Playing the role of a gentle giant, the bear regularly drew audiences of 15 million viewers on ITV's World of Sport programme.

It was this which gave Hercules early success, leading to a number of small acting roles on television.

International stardom[edit]

While filming for an Kleenex television commercial on 20 August 1980, on Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides, Hercules managed to escape, and went missing for 24 days. In a rescue attempt joined by hundreds of volunteers, search parties looked for Hercules for three days before calling off the search (though Andy continued to search on his own). On 13 September, a crofter spotted the animal swimming; he was shot with a tranquilliser dart, netted and flown by helicopter back to Andy.[2] The story made Hercules an almost instant celebrity around the world, as the world's media gathered round the cage as the bear was slowly brought back to consciousness. Being used to eating cooked food (he disliked raw flesh), he was found in a pretty bad state, having lost 15 stone, almost half of his weight. Andy found it quite remarkable that he chose to rather half-starve to death than attack/kill/feed on the many sheep, cattle, or various other wildlife available to him on the island. This fact endeared him all the more, to all the people who had previously feared him for being a "wild beast", leading him to ever larger celebrity status. It also finally led to the "Big Softy" Kleenex campaign, which kicked off his film career. And for the years following he continued to abandon more of his wild instincts, acting more and more like "a person" with his adoptive "parents".

He would go on to secure higher profile roles in films such as the James Bond movie Octopussy (1983), in which he shared the screen with Roger Moore, and a documentary for the animated Disney film Hercules (1997), as well as moving to California for two years and starring in a number of other small film roles, children's documentaries and chat shows. Netting his adoptive parents a small fortune for all their efforts.

Later life[edit]

Statue of Hercules the bear at Langass Woods, Isle of North Uist, Scotland.

While filming a BBC television documentary, Eyewitness Bear,[3] Hercules fell over and slipped a disc in his back, marking an abrupt end to his career. Andy nursed him back to health over the next six months, with swimming exercises in Hercules' pool. The determination paid off and he slowly started to walk again. But the following winter he again lost the use of his legs.

Before entering hibernation, Herc (as he was always lovingly called) died of old age on 4 February 2000, aged 25 (which is around the natural lifespan of a grizzly). "Big Softy" Hercules is possibly the one grizzly bear that touched the most human lives.

In 2013, Andy and Maggie were invited to unveil a life-size statue of Hercules on North Uist. A documentary, Hercules the Human Bear, aired on Channel 5 (UK) on 3 April 2014.

Trivia[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hercules the Bear website.
  2. ^ BBC's On This Day - "1980: Missing Scottish bear is found", BBC News, 13 September 1980.
  3. ^ "Bear with a sore back". BBC News Online (BBC). 18 October 1999. Retrieved 2008-06-05. 

External links[edit]