Friday, July 19, 2013
Remembering Gunther Gebel Williams September 12, 1934 - July 19, 2001
Gunther Gebel Williams changed the face of the American circus. He was the face of the Greatest Show on Earth from 1968 to 1990. The famed animal trainer was a highlight of Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus and during that period, NEVER missed a performance. He is considered "The Greatest Wild Animal Trainer of All Time.
He was born in Germany and was raised by his mother and were refugees when Silesia was ceded to Poland. He and his mother began working for Barnum & Bailey in Germany in 1947. Williams father was missing in the Soviet Union. When Gunther was 18, the circus owner died and the owner's widow asked Gunther to take over as the animal trainer.
Williams was a true showman. He became prominent on the early days of television. He made frequent appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" and many other programs over the years.
It is estimated that Gunther Gebel Williams performed for more than 200 million people during his career of more than 12000 consecutive performances. He is primarily recognized for his training of tigers and elephants. He was gifted with his way of communicating with animals. In 1973, he was named Outstanding Circus Performer of the Year and was featured in the televised special "Lord of the Rings" with Tony Curtis. He was also featured on a televised special that included his son, Mark called "My Father, the Circus King" He was also featured on American Express commercials with his leopard, Kenny across his shoulders. Over the years, Williams received numerous accolades and honors.
When he concluded his ring performances on September 27, 1998, he took a management position as Vice President of Animal Care.
Gunther Gebel Williams died of a brain tumor on July 19, 2001 at the age of 66 in Venice, Florida.
His funeral was held in the "Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Venice and more than 1500 fans and performers attended his service (funeral program pictured)
He now rests in Venice Memorial Gardens in Venice, Florida and his epitaph reads "A simple man blessed with a special gift...missed by all."