SEATTLE – Chris Wedes, the man who delighted Seattle-area children for decades as the star clown on “The J.P. Patches Show,” has died. He was 84.
A family friend who answered at a phone number listed for Wedes said he died Sunday morning. The Seattle TV station that aired his show, KIRO-TV, confirmed the death.
A cause of death wasn’t immediately known. Wedes was diagnosed with blood cancer in 2007.
KIRO began airing the show in 1958 in black and white. At its peak, more than 100,000 viewers tuned in each weekday to watch Wedes as Julius Pierpont Patches, the former star of the Ding-A-Ling Circus who retired to become mayor of Seattle’s city dump.
The Emmy award-winning show went off the air in September 1981, but Wedes remained a fixture at parades, parties, hospitals and community events where he was cheered by baby boomers who watched his show as children.
Known for his tattered hat, colorful patchwork coat and red nose, the character Wedes created would tumble off his tricycle, blast himself into space and play pranks on his many TV guests.
His young viewers were known as “Patches Pals,” and he always reminded them to follow the rules, such as minding their parents, saying their prayers and sharing toys.
The cast ad-libbed every show rather than using a script, which appealed to kids and adults alike. It drew on the improvisational skills of Wedes and actor Bob Newman, whose many roles included that of J.P.’s masculine-looking girlfriend, Gertrude; Ketchikan the Animal Man, and Boris S. Wort, the “world’s second-meanest man.”
“Everyone remembers him,” Newman told the Seattle Times. “He left such a mark – he will never be forgotten.”
No one called Wedes by his real name, Newman said. “He was always known as the clown.”
Newman last saw his friend a few months ago. “He was gradually going down, but the clown hung in there for a long time.”
In a statement released Sunday night, King County executive Dow Constantine said “several generations of Seattle kids owe a bit of their personality and sense of humor to J.P. Patches. Chris Wedes, sidekick Bob Newman, and director Joe Towey created a remarkable world of improvised comedy that enthralled children and, with an occasional wink or double-entendre, let parents in on the backstage hilarity.”
Because he was known as Mayor of the City Dump, last year Seattle city councilwoman Jean Godden helped get a portion of a local dump renamed in honor of J.P. That section, an education center, was expected to be completed by 2014.
Wedes is survived by his wife, daughter and a granddaughter.