Favorite Pop Culture Bears of the ’80s

There are many memorable non-human characters and mascots throughout history. There are lots of dogs, cats, robots, aliens, monsters and countless other animals as well. One of those animals that made an impact is the BEAR. I will do future lists remembering some of the others, but in this one we will remember some of the many bears featured in pop culture during my favorite decade, the ’80s.  These bears could be real, costumed, animated or even animatronic. For purposes of this list, they didn’t have to originate in the ’80s, just have some reasonable exposure during the decade. Some bears originated in earlier decades, but still made an impact as I was growing up all the way into the ’80s.

So, the list can include any bear that was part of pop culture in some way from 1980-1989. My rankings will be pretty subjective based partly on pop culture significance, but mostly just my personal experiences then as well as my nostalgia level now (which admittedly can change daily). Hopefully these guys will bring back some good memories for you as well. Waiting any longer would be too much to bear, so here are my FAVORITE POP CULTURE BEARS OF THE ’80s:

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):

Country Bear Jamboree – I visited Disney World for the first time in 1987 and one of the attractions I remember well is Country Bear Jamboree. It first opened in 1971 located within Frontierland at Magic Kingdom and is still entertaining folks over 40 years later.

Hamm’s – “From the land of sky blue waters.” Introduced back in 1952, Hamm’s was the first to use an animated character in beer advertising. I remember those commercials pretty vividly from my childhood. The Hamm’s Bear mascot was the key element of the campaign which ranked 75th in the “Best Ad Campaign of the 20th Century” as named by Advertising Age magazine (in 1999).

Sugar Bear – The mascot for Super Sugar Crisp cereal first appeared in the 1940s and resembled Bing Crosby in facial features and voice. As with many cereal mascots if you watched cartoons regularly in the ’80s, we saw them quite often during commercials. Sugar Bear was no exception.

Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears – The animated series premiered in September of 1985 and went on to run for 65 episodes. It ran for four seasons on NBC Saturday Mornings and then moved to a syndicated 2-hour block of cartoons called “The Disney Afternoon” for two more years. Check out our interview with co-creator Jymn Magon to find out much more about how the show was developed.

Corduroy – Corduroy is a children’s book originally published in 1968 written and illustrated by Don Freeman. Many kids growing up in the decades to follow were quite familiar with the books and I was still reading it to my own daughter when she was younger.

Teddy Grahams – Revisit our Retro Commercials feature on these delicious snacks to find out more.

Snuggle – Since the brand was launched in 1983, the Snuggle Bear has been the mascot for the Snuggle line of fabric softener and featured in advertising.

Kissyfur – This cartoon television series ran for 26 episodes from 1986-1988 featuring the title character and his father Gus.

Rooty the Great Root Bear – The A&W mascot was first used in 1974 in Canada and then adopted by the American chain in 1976. In the late ’90s, he was phased out but returned after new ownership took over in 2011.

Pooky (Garfield’s teddy bear) – He never says a word, but he is included in many Garfield comic strips over the years.

Boris the Bear – The comic book series was introduced in 1986 and the original run went until 1991. Created by James Dean Smith and written by Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley, Boris the Bear was the second title ever published by Dark Horse Comics.

The Bad News Bears – The original film starring Walter Matthau as “Morris Buttermaker” was released in 1976. I probably didn’t see it personally until the late ’70s or early ’80s, but went on to watch many times during the ’80s. It was followed by two sequels, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training in 1977 and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan in 1978. To me, it’s all about that original and I will still stop to watch it any time it’s on even to this day.

Garbage Pail Kids “Teddy Bear” – Series 4 #164a from 1986

Smokey the Bear – First introduced in 1944 by the U.S. Forest Service, Smokey and his slogan, “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires,” were used in Public Service Announcements to educate forest fire prevention. These commercials were sprinkled in regularly during Saturday morning and after school cartoons and you probably saw signs up in parks/campsites if you ever visited those. Still going today, it is now the longest-running P.S.A. campaign.

Other Disney bears like Baloo and Little John – There is one Disney bear which will be included in the list below, but wanted to mention the others. Even though not originally released in the ’80s, these guys were re-released in theaters or released for first time on VHS during the decade, so they still had an impact. “Baloo” from The Jungle Book (originally released in 1967) was voiced by Phil Harris and sings the classic “Bear Necessities”. The Jungle Book has always been one of my favorites and was re-released theatrically in North America three times (1978, 1984, and 1990) with the VHS not released until 1991. “Little John” from Robin Hood (originally released in 1973) was coincidentally voiced again by Phil Harris. The film was re-leased theatrically in 1982 and Robin Hood holds the distinction as being the debut installment of the Walt Disney Classics home video label released on VHS in December of 1984. 

Now on to the Top 10

10. Berenstain Bears – After the 1962 debut of the first Berenstain Bears book, The Big Honey Hunt, the series has grown to over 300 titles (which have sold approximately 260 million copies in 23 languages) as well as multiple animated television specials and even their own television series. Even though the books originated in previous decades, they were still being read when I was a kid (as well as kids today). The five TV specials first aired between 1979-1983 and then, from 1985 through 1987, an animated series titled The Berenstain Bears Show aired as part of the CBS Saturday-morning cartoon block. So that definitely made them a prominent part of the ’80s.

9. 1985 Chicago Bears – I was born and raised a Green Bay Packers fan, so I naturally hated the Bears. But you cannot deny the greatness of the 1985 Bears and some of the characters they had on that team including ‘Sweetness’ Walter Payton, William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry, Jim McMahon, Mike Singletary, Richard Dent and ‘Da Coach’ Mike Ditka among so many others. The “Super Bowl Shuffle” made this team a true pop culture sensation and they are still remembered as one of the best teams, not just of the ’80s, but in all NFL history.

8.  Paddington – Many kids know Paddington now from the 2014 CGI film or its 2017 sequel. But I remember Paddington from the books and the television show that I read and watched as a kid. He was first introduced in the 1958 children’s book A Bear Called Paddington and in more than twenty more books since written by British author Michael Bond. I had no idea what marmalade was, but I knew Paddington loved it. I liked the books, but what really created my love of Paddington was the television series which originally aired on BBC from 1976 to 1980 bringing the bear to life with stop motion animation. In the U.S., episodes of Paddington aired in many different ways somewhat randomly over the years including on PBS, on the syndicated series Romper Room, on Nickelodeon as a segment on Pinwheel, and on USA Network as a segment on Calliope. Because you never knew exactly when it would be on, I always felt like it was a special surprise when I caught an episode. I am glad a whole new generation is getting to enjoy Paddington, but I will always remember him best from the TV show and books of my childhood.

7. Care Bears – Now these are a true product of the ’80s. Originally painted in 1981 by artist Elena Kucharik to be used on greeting cards from American Greetings, the characters were next turned into plush teddy bears in 1983. Then the Care Bears had their own animated television series from 1985 to 1988 as well as three feature films (in 1985, 1986 and 1987). Over 40 million Care Bears were sold between 1983 and 1987 and American Greetings reportedly printed over 70 million of their cards during the decade. In total, the sales of Care Bears merchandise reached over $2 million during the ’80s. I wasn’t personally all that interested in them, but it is unlikely that anybody could’ve grown up in the ’80s and not been aware of the Care Bears.

6. Teddy Ruxpin – This talking stuffed animal was first introduced by Worlds of Wonder in September of 1985. It became so popular that it was not only the best-selling toy of 1985, but also the best-selling toy of 1986. Naturally, there was even an animated television series, The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin, that aired for 65 episodes from 1986-1987. Teddy Ruxpin was created by Ken Forsse and Phil Baron provided the voice on all tapes and on the TV show. The commercials for the toy ran consistently during children’s programming for that 2-3 year period and, even if you did not own one yourself, you probably knew somebody who did.  After all, it was the best-selling toy for 2 entire years of the decade. And who didn’t want to see what happened when you put other tapes in a Teddy Ruxpin?

5. The Bald-Headed Bear in The Great Outdoors – Bart the Bear was a trained Alaskan Kodiak bear that appeared in several movies, television shows and commercials that required a real bear. In the 1988 John Hughes film, The Great Outdoors, John Candy tells a scary story about when they stayed in the same place many years ago on their honeymoon and he was attacked by a giant grizzly bear. When he fired at it with a shotgun, the buckshot shaved the hair off the top of the bear’s head and from then on, it was known as the “Bald-Headed Bear” of Clare County. At this point in the movie, we are not sure if this is a true story or something to just scare the kids. Until later in the film, when a bald-headed bear ends up chasing Candy’s character all the way back to his cabin. (“Big bear chase me!”) He ends up grabbing a shot gun and firing at the bear again, but this time blows the hair off of his rear end causing the bear to run away. In a post-credits scene, a family of raccoons discovered the bear sitting in the lake, embarrassed due to now being “bald on both ends”. The Great Outdoors has remained a summer-time favorite of mine.

4. Billy Bob Brockali from The Rock-afire Explosion – ShowBiz Pizza was a favorite place to visit for me as a kid. I even had one of my birthday parties at ShowBiz Pizza. First opened in 1980, ShowBiz Pizza was very similar to what Chuck E. Cheese was (and actually all locations were later re-branded as Chuck E. Cheese). They had lots of arcade games, games you could win prize tickets playing, pizza and an animatronic band. It was truly awesome and, as much as I loved playing arcade games, I was even more captivated by The Rock-afire Explosion. Billy Bob was the leader of the band and the mascot for ShowBiz Pizza. A brown bear from Tennessee who wore yellow and red overalls, he played a wooden bass and provided vocals. Very similar to a Disney animatronic show, I couldn’t get enough of watching The Rock-afire Explosion perform comedy skits and medleys of songs. Just seeing a picture of Billy Bob gives me tremendous nostalgia for how much I enjoyed getting to visit ShowBiz Pizza back in the ’80s.

3. Yogi Bear (& Boo-Boo) – I am a big fan of Hanna-Barbera cartoons and one of their signature characters is certainly Yogi Bear. First introduced in 1958, he received his own show in 1961 and usually revolved around stealing picnic baskets in Jellystone Park. Yogi’s personality and mannerisms were inspired by Art Carney’s Ed Norton character on The Honeymooners. His main catch phrase was, “I’m smarter than the average bear!” Yogi was almost always accompanied by his companion Boo-Boo Bear (“Hey there, Boo-Boo!”). Yogi was voiced by Daws Butler (who also did some other Hanna-Barbera voices like Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss, Wally Gator and Quick Draw McGraw among others) from his debut until Butler’s death in 1988 and everybody since then has been doing an impression of that original voice. Yogi and Boo-Boo appeared in many animated series and specials over the decades including one of my very favorites, Laff-a-lympics, from the late ’70s. He had two Christmas specials that debuted in 1980 and 1982 respectively and continues to be a symbol of the outstanding animated shows provided by Hanna-Barbera.

2. Fozzie Bear – Fozzie Bear was introduced to most when The Muppet Show debuted in 1976 (and running for 120 episodes until 1981). He was Kermit the Frog’s best friend and often featured in a sketch where he did a comedy monologue using his catchphrase “Wocka Wocka” while Statler and Waldorf heckled him. Performed by the great Frank Oz, Fozzie also starred in all of the Muppets films starting with The Muppet Movie in 1979 as well as the two released in the ’80s, The Great Muppet Caper (1981) and The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984). Fozzie was featured in the 1987 television special A Muppet Family Christmas, where he took all of his friends to his mother’s farm for Christmas. Fozzie Bear was included in all of the television specials and movies featuring The Muppets in various capacities. The character also carried over into the animated series Muppet Babies which debuted in 1984 (and running for 107 episodes until 1991). Baby Fozzie was voiced by Greg Berg and you can find out more about this show in our feature on Muppet Babies. After Kermit, Miss Piggy and possibly Animal, Fozzie has to be considered the next most recognized of The Muppets. Even though my very favorites are some of the very minor characters, Fozzie has always been one of my favorites, too.

1. Winnie the Pooh – I listed a couple “other Disney bears” in the honorable mention section, but my favorite bear since I can even remember is the “tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff” from the Hundred Acre Wood. Winnie-the-Pooh actually originated all the way back in a 1926 book by author A.A. Milne. In 1961, Disney licensed the rights to Winnie the Pooh and has since released numerous animated productions starring its version of Winnie the Pooh and related characters. There were first theatrical featurettes: Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968) and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (1974). These three featurettes were combined into a feature-length movie, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, in 1977 with a fourth featurette, Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore, later released in 1983. Sterling Holloway provided the voice for Pooh until 1977 with Hal Smith taking over until 1986 and then Jim Cummings holding it down until the present. One of my favorite books as a child was based on Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day and I still have this book and we read it regularly to my own daughter when she was young. Between the book and watching the featurettes as a child, I have loved Pooh bear as long as I can remember. In the ’80s, there were two different television series starring Winne the Pooh and the rest of the folks from the Hundred Acre Wood (with other series in decades to follow as well). The Disney Channel had Welcome to Pooh Corner from 1983–1986 with characters portrayed by actors in human-sized puppet suits. ABC included an animated series called The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh from 1988–1991 as part of its Saturday morning line-up. Even though he is often referred to as “a bear of very little brain”, Pooh has many admirable characteristics and he will always be my favorite “willy nilly silly old bear”.

There’s my list. Again, remember these didn’t have to originate in the ’80s, just make an impact while I was growing up all the way through the ’80s. As usual and as I mentioned earlier, these are based on my personal preferences and the order could very well change a little depending on my mood or nostalgia on a given day. Are there any bears from the ’80s that you feel I have overlooked? If so or if you’d rank any differently, please leave them in the comments section below. It certainly BEARS remembering all of these bears that made a pop culture impact in the ’80s. I can’t BEAR the thought of not having any of them during our favorite decade.

About OldSchool80s 87 Articles
Old School Tim has an adoring devotion to the awesome '80s decade. He loves to relive and share that nostalgia on a regular basis. The Kickin' it Old School blog site has been retired, but you can still get daily doses of '80s goodness on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and anywhere else they let him.

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