Hercules (bear)

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Hercules (1975 – 4 February 2001) [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. Robin, having wrestled a bear (Terrible Ted) in Maple Leaf Gardens in 1968, had the idea of adopting his own bear to create a star. The wildlife park was unable to rehouse newly-born cubs, with their only option being to put them down, and sold one to Robin for £50, allowing him to take the cub home that September once he was old enough to leave his mother.[2]

Hercules grew quickly and in one year grew to a weight of 30 stone (190 kg; 420 lbs).

They trained in a remote area in Sheriffmuir near Dunblane, where the couple lived.

Early popularity[edit]

Robin commissioned a 60-minute documentary, "Hercules the Wrestling bear" in 1980 at a cost of £10,000, designed to promote public interest in their show.

Hercules first appeared with Robin in his act on the UK wrestling circuit in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

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

International stardom[edit]

While filming for a Kleenex television commercial on Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides on 20 August 1980, Hercules managed to escape, going 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; Herc was shot with a tranquilliser dart, netted, and flown by helicopter back to Andy.[3] The story quickly made Hercules a celebrity around the world, as the world's media gathered around the cage as the bear was brought back to consciousness. Being used to eating cooked food (he disliked raw flesh), the bear had lost 15 stone (95 kg; 210 lbs), almost half his weight. Andy found it quite remarkable that the bear half-starved to death rather than feed on the many sheep, cattle, or various other wildlife on the island. This endeared him all the more, including to all the people who had previously feared him for being a "wild beast", leading him to ever larger celebrity status. This also led to the "Big Softy" Kleenex campaign, which kicked off his film career. For the years following, Herc 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 Disney company, 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. All this net 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 in 1997,[4] Hercules fell over and slipped a disc in his back, marking an abrupt end to his career. Robin 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 called) died of old age on 4 February 2001, aged 25 (which is around the natural lifespan of a grizzly). "Big Softy" Hercules is possibly the most well known grizzly bear.

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.


  • Hercules was featured on the cover of Time and helped to promote the Miss World contest.
  • Hercules caddied for comedian Bob Hope at the Scottish golf course of Gleneagles.
  • Hercules was once named "Personality of the Year" by the Scottish Tourist Board and received a telegram from Ronald Reagan.
  • The Scottish duo "Gaberlunzie" dedicated a song to Hercules on their 2003 album The Travelling Man.
  • Hercules was stunt double for Gentle Ben in a charity wrestling match with Geoff Capes


External links[edit]