Cal Worthington, the legendary car dealer whose commercials featuring his “dog Spot” dominated local airwaves for decades, has died. He was 92.
Worthington died Sunday of natural causes while watching football games with his family at home in Orland near Chico in Northern California, according to a statement from Brady McLeod of the Miles Law Firm in Sacramento, which represented Worthington.
Worthington rose to prominence in the 1960s and early 1970s with his ubiquitous television commercials featuring him next to rows of cars with his “dog Spot” – an assortment of different animals including a gorilla, a tiger and an elephant.
In a 2009 interview with the Los Angeles Business Journal, Worthington recalled that he started those commercials as a parody of a rival dealership’s commercial featuring a German shepherd on the hoods of cars. “After joking I was going to use a gorilla, my staff dared me, and I couldn’t turn it down,” he said. The commercials also featured a catchy jingle, “Go See Cal.”
At the height of his fame, Worthington owned 23 dealerships in five states; at the time of his death, he still ran several dealerships, including one in Long Beach.
Worthington was one of nine children of parents who endured the Dust Bowl in 1930s Oklahoma. He became a bomber pilot during World War II, flying 29 missions over Germany and earning five medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He continued flying until this year, earning recognition from the Federal Aviation Administration for 50 years of safe piloting.
Worthington never left his farming roots. He founded the Big W Ranch near Orland, which has since become one of the state’s largest producers of almonds and olives.
Worthington is survived by six children and nine grandchildren.
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