Yesterday evening, news broke that Danny Wells, better known to a generation of kids as Luigi from the Super Mario Brothers Super Show, passed away at the age of 72.
If you were a kid in the late 80’s, that was a sad thing to read. Wells, alongside Lou Albano’s Mario (who passed away in 2009), injected a manic energy into a show that, really, had no business existing in the first place. Nowadays a Nintendo-endorsed live-action Mario show seems ludicrous, but back then, it was an after-school staple. Every day I’d watch it, enjoying the action as Wells and Albano zip around their Brooklyn apartment, assisted on their misadventures by B-list stars and former wrestlers.
That was the reach of Mario back then. He was everywhere. Cereal boxes, TV shows, clothes, cards, you name it, the Italian plumber’s face was on it. Manufacturers couldn’t make the stuff fast enough to sell it, demand was so high. Legions of kids paid money to see a movie just for the chance to get a first glimpse of Super Mario 3 (the timeless classic, The Wizard).
Can something like that ever happen again? With the amount of splintering and saturation we have in the industry? Three major consoles, PCs, millions and millions of mobile devices, and browser-based gaming all say it’s unlikely. We didn’t have nearly that many options to choose from in the 80’s, and for a lot of us, Mario was our first experience with the medium. He was, and still is, special in that way.
The Italian Plumber is still a big deal in gaming, and his franchise remains one of the most important in the industry. But he’s nowhere near the height of his popularity in the 80’s and early 90’s. And though most of the tie-ins were ridiculous, low-quality cash grabs that in some cases sullied fine actors’ IMDB listings, I really do miss breakfast with the Nintendo Cereal System.
Anyway, if you want to refresh your memory and remind yourself how horrible/awesome the SMBSS was, take a look at the clip below from one of the more iconic episodes from the series, via Kotaku.
(Full disclosure: there is only one or two Luigi clips I remember from the series. One is when he’s reverse-eating spaghetti for some reason I can’t remember. The other is when Luigi was possessed by slime and talked like a PG version of Linda Blair from the Exorcist. That latter one permanently scarred me when I first watched it. Guess which clip was embedded in the Kotaku article. Enjoy!)