Popeye was inspired by a real man who never backed down from a fight

Creator E.C. Segar based his character on the toughest man in his hometown.

The Everett Collection

Read to Me

Elzie Crisler Segar was born in 1894 in the southern Illinois town of Chester. He grew up in the new century assisting his handyman father paint houses and working as a projectionist at a movie theater.

At the time, Chester had a local hero — or antagonizer, depending on your point of view. A man named Frank Fiegel, better known as Rocky, worked odd jobs around town and had a knack for getting into fistfights. Despite his violent nature, he loved kids and handed out candy whenever he got the chance.

Young Segar couldn't help but be inspired. Fiegel protected kids from any adults trying to harm them, even when it cost him. Fiegel's nephew told the Southern Illinoisan in 1979 about one encounter with a bully: "When Rocky started coming after him, he pulled a knife, but Rocky kept coming." Fiegel didn't let any cuts or bruises stop him from protecting anyone who was in trouble.

Fiegel wasn't exactly like Popeye. He was never a sailor and was "more inclined to guzzle liquor than spinach." But he did look a bit like the cartoon character (you can see a photo of him here in the upper right) and was inclined to fisticuffs. Unsurprisingly, many of his brawls happened in bars. Fiegel's nephew recalled a certain establishment that "had two big guys inside who said you had to buy drinks for the house or put on the gloves. They had a big bruiser waiting to fight." Not afraid of anything, Fiegel "put on the gloves and knocked the guy out."

While the spinach and the seafaring occupation may have been added fictions, Fiegel did indeed smoke a pipe. Plus, the most important aspect of Popeye's character is his attitude and willingness to stand up to a bully. By all accounts, Segar took those aspects directly from Rocky Fiegel.

Originally laid to rest in an unmarked grave next to his mother's, Fiegel now has a headstone in Chester inscribed with an image of the original 1929 comic strip iteration of Popeye — the one said to bear the most resemblance to the real-life inspiration.

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CelticTwilight 15 days ago
Your mommy and daddy must have neglected you as a child, that's why you act out with your troll posts. You crave attention, negative or positive it doesn't matter does it? Just as long as someone pays attention to you. It's kinda sad when you think about it.
Wiseguy 15 days ago
Loose and lose are two different words, moron.
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Moody 13 days ago
You seem to misspell a lot of words. Learn how to write.
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CelticTwilight 15 days ago
You really like having your posts deleted dontcha you little Qanon troll? LOL! 😆😆😆
Wiseguy 15 days ago
Bought and brought are two different words, moron. You misspelled Hillary. You misspelled Wuhan. Nobody has to help Trump look bad, moron. Biden won, moron. Deal with it.
Moody 13 days ago
She even misspelled CNN & MSNBC. We're not dealing with a genius here.
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Wiseguy 15 days ago
Nobody ordered you to wear a mask, moron. You misspelled Democrats, moron.
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Moody 13 days ago
He's just calling like he sees it.
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Wiseguy 15 days ago
You are being controlled by big baby Trump and lying FOX news, moron.
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Wiseguy 15 days ago
You don't have to be from Qanon to be stupid, moron.
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CelticTwilight 17 days ago
Crawl back into your Qanon hole you waste of skin.
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CelticTwilight 17 days ago
LOL! Your Q conspiracy bs got deleted. How ya like them apples? 😆😆😆
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Wiseguy 15 days ago
How many people, how many courts have to tell you there was no election fraud, moron? Stop watching fake FOX news before your mind is gone...oh, too late.
harlow1313 17 days ago
Well, a real man backs down from a fight, when he realizes he is in the wrong. Additionally, I am a peacenik. Down with macho bull s***.

Though I do admire this Fiegel fellow for protecting those who needed it.
ERROL 18 days ago
There is another story of Popeye being created by a lock & dam worker on Coosa river in Alabama
dmagoon209 18 days ago
BTW, does Popeye spike his spinach with steroids? LOL!
AgingDisgracefully 18 days ago
He came. He mumbled. He drifted into the fog.
HulkFan02 19 days ago
I didn't know that, thanks for this fact
ScoobyDoo169 19 days ago
I really enjoyed that story, that was cool. I love how he loved kids and went through any danger to protect them. He does look a lot like Popeye.😊
Sway 19 days ago
Cool story. Popeye real does look like Frank Fiegal, Seems likes Fiegal's spinach was in a bottle. ;)
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