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Bart the Bear, who appeared in several Oscar-winning films, was “the John Wayne of bears”

Getty Images
Getty Images

Whether they are predators, pets, or prey, animals have always surrounded us. Since the beginnings of the movie industry, animals have also found their place on the movie screen, acting side by side with their human colleagues. There is a long list of animal actors, and some of them, such as Lassie, have become household names. Movies with or about animals have the power to make us reevaluate our understanding of ourselves as well as the animal world.

One such iconic animal is Bart the Bear. Bart had a long film career, one that took him across the world and gave him the opportunity to act alongside many movie stars. Bart became a star himself, and he even had the chance to attend the 1998 Academy Awards.

Bart the Bear was born at Baltimore Zoo on January 19, 1977. It appears that he was born into an acting family; his mother appeared in movies such as Grizzly (1976) and Day of the Animals (1977). As a young cub, weighing only five pounds, Bart was adopted by the human family that would take care of him for the rest of his life: animal trainers Doug and Lynne Seus.

Bart’s training involved a reward and praise system, and very soon he was ready for his first role, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams TV show, in which he played Ben, the young companion of Adams.

Bart got older, and he grew up to be a beautiful nine foot six inch tall, 1,500-pound bear. He made his movie debut in Windwalker (1981). The movie career of Bart the Bear started to gain strength, and he became one of the most wanted animal actors in Hollywood. Bart appeared in many movies, and some of his acting partners included actors Robert Redford, Daryl Hannah, Ethan Hawke, Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Steven Seagal, and Anthony Hopkins.

It seems like everybody who worked with Bart was impressed by him. He was well trained and possessed an incredible amount of charm and understanding. Bart was also pleasant to work with. Directors Jean-Jacques Annaud (The Bear) and Lee Tamahori (The Edge) both stated that Bart was “the John Wayne of Bears.” This says a lot about him as an actor.

One actor has been particularly fond of Bart: Anthony Hopkins. He worked with Bart on two movies: Legends of the Fall and The Edge. In both movies, he had the highest opinion of his animal counterpart. According to Bart’s caretaker and trainer Lynne Seus, Hopkins had an excellent relationship with Bart. He considered him a colleague, and he showed the highest respect. Hopkins spent a lot of time with Bart, looking at him and admiring his acting and doing his parts together with him. Throughout his career, Bart received many positive reviews. For example, his performance in The Edge was called “the capstone of an illustrious career” (Kenneth Turan), and “a milestone in ursine acting.”

One of Bart’s greatest moments was probably his appearance in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s The Bear. One can say that this was Bart’s life achievement. In this movie, Bart took the role of a grizzly bear who adopts an abandoned cub. During the movie, Bart protects the cub from hunters. Annaud auditioned 50 bears and chose Bart for the main role. For this part, Bart needed to learn some new routines, including learning how to accept an unrelated cub who was his partner in the movie. This was extremely hard for him because it is not in a bear’s nature to do this sort of thing.

History of the Teddy Bear

Bart managed to complete the movie and did everything perfectly. The Bear immediately became a hit around the world. Annaud, who was accidentally injured by Bart after ignoring the orders of the trainer and entering his cage, held the highest opinion of the animal. Allegedly, Bart was supposed to receive an Oscar nomination for his role in The Bear; unfortunately, this didn’t happen because there is no allowance for animal actors in the Academy Awards.

Although Bart didn’t receive any Oscars, he at least appeared on the stage of the Academy Awards in 1998. His appearance was part of the salute and recognition of animal actors through the history of Hollywood. During the ceremony, Bart gave a large envelope to Mike Myers.

Bart wasn’t just a trained bear that acts, he also became an ambassador for the Vital Ground Foundation, spreading the message about the threats to wildlife in the Rocky Mountains, on Kodiak Island in Alaska, and in the Gobi Desert.

Later in his life, Bart was diagnosed with cancer and became a “spokesman” for the Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University.

In 1998 Bart’s health situation got complicated. Cancer wouldn’t go away, and Bart refused the painkillers that were offered to him. Because of this, the Seus family was forced to euthanize him. Bart was put to sleep on May 10, 2000. He was 23 years-old. Bart spent his final moments on the Seus’ ranch (where he lays buried today), surrounded by his friends and family.

Read another story from us: Author Thomas Michael Bond dies at 91: Creator of Paddington Bear was inspired by memories of child evacuees in wartime Britain

When Bart fell ill, he was working on a TV documentary called Growing Up Grizzly (2001). This documentary was narrated by Brad Pitt, who acted alongside Bart in Legends of the Fall. Unfortunately, Bart wasn’t able to finish his last movie.

Boban Docevski

Boban Docevski is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News