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Linus Maurer, Sonoma cartoonist and inspiration for 'Peanuts' character, dies at 90

Linus Maurer, a longtime cartoonist for the Sonoma Index-Tribune whose friendship with fellow illustrator Charles M. Schulz led the “Peanuts” creator to name Charlie Brown’s blanket-wielding best friend Linus, has died at the age of 90.

Maurer, who entertained Index-Tribune readers twice a week for more than 25 years with his hand-drawn editorial page cartoons, most of them hand-delivered to the newsroom, died Jan. 29 in Sonoma. His cause of death was not clear, but he had struggled with Parkinson’s disease and heart trouble late in life.

About 65 years ago, Maurer and Schulz worked together at Art Instruction Schools Inc. in Minneapolis, when “Peanuts” was getting started.

Schulz told the story in a book celebrating “Peanuts’” 50th anniversary.

“Linus came from a drawing that I made one day of a face almost like the one he now has,” Schulz wrote. “I experimented with some wild hair, and showed the sketch to a friend of mine who sat near me at art instruction, whose name was Linus Maurer. It seemed appropriate that I should name the character Linus.”

It was a common practice for Schulz, who named many “Peanuts” characters, including Charlie Brown, after the people that surrounded him.

Schulz and Maurer remained lifelong friends, and frequently met for coffee at Snoopy’s Home Ice skating rink in Santa Rosa until Schulz’s death in 2000.

Maurer’s cartoons and puzzles appeared in newspapers nationwide, and he continued at his sketchpad until very recently, despite the challenges of Parkinson’s disease.

Maurer, too, authored widely circulated syndicated comics, including “Old Harrigan” in the 1960s and “Abracadabra” in the ’70s, followed by “In the Beginning.” He also created the “Challenger” numbers puzzle 20 times a month for King Features syndicate.

Early in his career, Maurer was an illustrator for IBM and AT&T in New York, before moving to San Francisco in 1962 and working as an art director for the McCann Erickson ad agency and later Wells Fargo.

When his cartooning career eventually took off, he left the corporate world and worked from his own office in Ghirardelli Square with a view of San Francisco Bay, not far from his home near the Palace of Fine Arts.

In his later years, after his wife, Patricia Siedel, had passed away, Maurer moved to Sonoma Valley and started cartooning for the Index-Tribune.

In Sonoma, he met his longtime partner Mary Jo Starsiak, who also was a widow, and they shared a life together for 26 years. Their home displays many of Maurer’s fine art paintings, representative of the hundreds of paintings he sold in galleries throughout his life.

“He was such a sweet man,” Starsiak said. “I think he would like to be remembered for all his creative personalities – artist, cartoonist and his work making television commercials.”

She added that he always had a great sense of humor, even up to the final days of his illness, and that his kindness never ceased. “Even when he was so sick, he would always say thank you to me, and to his caregivers,” she said.

Maurer had no children, but delighted in Starsiak’s children and grandchildren, who thought he was so funny.

“He was so kind,” she said, “That’s just the man he was.”

A private service is planned, she said.

This report includes information from the Associated Press.

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