Spears’ son, Kevin Spears, tells Variety that he died from complications related to Lewy body dementia.
“Ken will forever be remembered for his wit, his story-telling, his loyalty to family, and his strong work ethic,” Kevin Spears says. “Ken has not only made a lasting impression on his family, but he has touched the lives of many as co-creator of ‘Scooby-Doo.’ Ken has been a role model for us throughout his life and he will continue to live on in our hearts.”
Born Charles Kenneth Spears on March 12, 1938, Spears grew up in Los Angeles, Calif., where he befriended the son of animation producer William Hanna. Spears was later hired at Hanna’s company, Hanna-Barbera Productions, in 1959 as a sound editor. While working in the editing department, Spears met Joe Ruby, and the two began a fruitful writing partnership. Together, they penned teleplays for Hanna-Barbera, Sid and Marty Krofft Television Productions and DePatie-Freleng Enterprises.
Spears and Ruby created beloved animated shows like “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” “Dynomutt,” “Dog Wonder” and “Jabberjaw” for Hanna-Barbera, in addition to “The Barkleys” and “The Houndcats” for DePatie-Freleng. Fred Silverman, CBS President of Children’s Programming, hired both Spears and Ruby in the early 1970s to supervise CBS’ Saturday morning cartoons lineup, and when Silverman moved to ABC, they followed. Spears was also a story consultant for the 1974 “Planet of the Apes” TV series.
In 1977, Spears and Ruby created their own studio, Ruby-Spears Productions. They produced several animated series, including “Superman,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” “Fangface,” “Mister T,” “The Plastic Man Comedy-Adventure Hour,” “Thundarr the Barbarian” and “Saturday Supercade.” In 1981, Ruby-Spears Productions was purchased by Taft Entertainment, the parent company of Hanna-Barbera. Ruby-Spears’ catalog was sold, along with that of Hanna-Barbera, to Turner Broadcasting in 1991. Ruby died on Aug. 26.
“Warner Bros. Animation is saddened to learn of the passing of Ken Spears and we send our warmest thoughts to his loved ones. He was a true innovator in the industry whose gifts of humor and storytelling continue to delight audiences,” Sam Register, president of Warner Bros. Animation and Cartoon Network Studios, said in a statement. “You cannot find a screen in the world that has not played a version of Scooby-Doo. We continue to be inspired by his work at Warner Bros. Animation and are honored to carry on the legacy of his beloved characters.”
Spears is survived by his two sons, Kevin and Chris; their wives, his five grandchildren and his three great-grandchildren.