Lee Mendelson, TV Producer Behind A Charlie Brown Christmas, Dies on Christmas Day at 86

Benjamin VanHoose

Lee Mendelson, a well-known producer behind more than 50 animated Charlie Brown television specials, died on Christmas at age 86, multiple outlets report.

Following a battle with cancer, Mendelson’s passing came on Wednesday at his home in Hillsborough, California, according to Variety. The news was also confirmed by the Charles M. Schulz Museum, which preserves the work of the Peanuts creator who inspired Mendelson’s iconic TV specials.

Along with producing other holiday specials like 1973’s Thanksgiving episode and 1966’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Mendelson is perhaps best known for A Charlie Brown Christmas, the 1965 classic for which he also penned the lyrics to “Christmas Time Is Here.”

Mendelson’s family acknowledged the significance of his Christmas Day passing, considering his career was catapulted by his contributions to the season’s charm.

“It wasn’t great for us, but to have him pass on Christmas really ties into his history and legacy,” one of his sons, Jason Mendelson, told the Palo Alto Daily Post on Thursday.

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Lee Mendelson, 2015 | Image Group LA/Getty Images

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In 2015, Mendelson spoke to Rolling Stone about the impact of A Charlie Brown Christmas and its endurance as a holiday viewing staple, adding that the now-famous song lyrics almost didn’t make it to the final version.

“[Vince] Guaraldi had written a very beautiful melody for the opening skating scene, but about two weeks before it was about to run on the air, I thought, ‘Maybe we could get a lyricist to put some words to this,’” he recalled at the time. “… Everyone was busy, so I sat down at my kitchen table and I wrote out a few words … and he recorded it, and we got it into the show about a week before it went on the air.”

He added: “The fact that it’s become such a permanent part of the holiday season is surreal. And every time I hear it on the radio, or I hear it in a store, or someone says, ‘wah, wah, wah,’ I realize we’re very lucky to have been associated with Mr. Schulz and his characters.”

Lee Mendelson | Getty Images

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Aside from his work within the Peanuts franchise, the Emmy winner also worked on various Garfield projects, including the famous cartoon cat’s Garfield and Friends TV series that ran from 1991 to 1994.

A San Francisco native, Mendelson is survived by his wife Ploenta, his children Glenn, Lynda, Jason, Sean and Ken, and eight grandchildren, according to Variety.