News of the beloved icon’s sudden demise after more than a century of service to Planters Peanuts came to light Wednesday after a video released by the brand depicted the century-old mascot falling off a cliff, seemingly to a fiery death.
That news hit especially hard in Wilkes-Barre, where the character and the company had deep roots.
“Mr. Peanut was one of the most important and recognizable logos in the history of advertising,” said local businessman Thom Greco, an avid collector of Mr. Peanut memorabilia.
“I guess some young marketing genius decided it was time to kill him off.”
Planters Nut and Chocolate Co. was founded in Wilkes-Barre in 1906 by an Italian immigrant named Amadeo Obici and his future brother-in-law, Mario Peruzzi.
Mr. Peanut was created in 1916, the brainchild of a Virginia teen named Antonio Gentile who drew the legume man in response to a Planters-sponsored trademark contest to win $5. His original sketches were later donated to the Smithsonian Institution.
The company’s headquarters were located on South Main Street in Wilkes-Barre until 1961.
“Mr. Peanut is one of the icons of Wilkes-Barre,” said Tony Brooks, a city councilman who also is director and curator of the Wilkes-Barré Preservation Society.
Brooks ranked Mr. Peanut with famed etiquette author Emily Post, who lived here as a child; the artwork of Wilkes-Barre-born painter George Catlin; and anthracite coal as “things that are identified with us.”
In the video, which is attached to this story, Mr. Peanut and two friends — actors Wesley Snipes and Matt Walsh — are seen driving along a mountain road in the peanut-shaped NUTmobile when they swerve to avoid an armadillo and the vehicle flies off a cliff.
The three initially escape the plummeting NUTmobile by grabbing a branch that cannot hold them all — very much in the spirit of cartoon fall guy Wile E. Coyote.
Mr. Peanut lets go, falling to the canyon floor onto the NUTmobile just as it explodes.
“It is with heavy hearts that we confirm that Mr. Peanut has died at 104,” a tweet from “The Estate of Mr. Peanut” account stated. “In the ultimate selfless act, he sacrificed himself to save his friends when they needed him most.”
National media outlets reported that a Planters spokeswoman said a funeral for Mr. Peanut will air during the third quarter of Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2.
Greco has a collection of memorabilia and items related to Planters and Mr. Peanut, who was a longtime fixture on Public Square.
Some of the items that Greco possesses include the original Mr. Peanut costume worn when Planters would send Mr. Peanut walking around the square to drum up business at the Planters store, located next to the Anthracite Newsstand.
“I guess these Generation X’ers don’t relate to Mr. Peanut,” Greco said. “I don’t question what the marketers do, but I do know that whether he’s alive or dead, we’ll always look at Mr. Peanut as the face of Planters.”
Over the years, Mr. Peanut has had many homes, including the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History, but according to Greco, Wilkes-Barre will always be his true home.
“We will always celebrate the origins of Mr. Peanut here in Wilkes-Barre,” Greco said.
Planters began closing its retail stores in the 1950s, and an attempt to revive Mr. Peanut’s presence on Public Square in 1983 met failure.
“I was very, very young when Mr. Peanut got phased out of Wilkes-Barre,” said Brooks, who’s also among those who have advocated for saving the lone remaining building from Planters’ former South Main Street headquarters.
He called Mr. Peanut “an ingenious marketing technique,” and scoffed at the idea that the 104-year-old symbol of the brand had yet breathed his last.
“I thought it was rubbish and a marketing ploy for the Super Bowl commercial,” Brooks said of the mascot’s alleged death.
“Let me just say that Planters Peanuts is nuts to kill off Mr. Peanut,” Brooks said, “and I’ll bet you after the Super Bowl he’s going to come back in a jif.”