Charlie the Tuna is the mascot of StarKist tuna. He was created by Tom Rogers at Leo Burnett in 1961. He is apparently based on the actor-songwriter Henry Nemo, a friend of Rogers. He is obsessed with being caught by StarKist, showing off his "good" tastes in the hope they will catch him. However, he always fails to realise StarKist are looking for tuna that tastes good, not tuna with good tastes.
Charlie is an anthropomorphic blue tuna fish with a white underbelly. He wears a red beret and coke-bottle glasses. Some versions of Charlie have his name written on the beret, similar to Tony the Tiger's neckerchief. Earlier versions of Charlie wore a yellow beret and the earliest version wore sunglasses. His blue colour has varied considerably throughout the decades.
Charlie is always hoping he will be caught by StarKist and used in one of their tuna products. He tries to convince them to catch him by showing off his "good" tastes (e.g. his painting skills in one advert). However, he never realises that StarKist are actually looking for tuna that tastes good, not tuna with good taste. This reason is explained by the narrator of the original adverts, the late Danny Dark - StarKist reject Charlie by sending him a note attached to a fishing hook that reads "Sorry, Charlie". Some of the adverts ended with Charlie appeasing the viewers "Tell 'em, Charlie sent you". These adverts were animated by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises.
"Sorry, Charlie" became closely associated with StarKist and was also a popular American catchphrase, entering the American lexicon in 1962. Charlie appeared in more than 85 advertisements for StarKist until 1989, when the campaign was retired.
In some adverts, an unnamed yellow fish appeared beside Charlie. This fish appeared with Charlie on some merchandise.
In test markets in 1991, Charlie met Premia, his female companion, to help introduce StarKist’s premium Chunk Light Tuna. Their relationship was short-lived.
Charlie returned from hiatus in 1999, with a slimmer new design to promote StarKist's new fresh seal pouch. He made a comeback in 2011 with a new advertisement for the StarKist Flavor Fresh Pouch. The advert begins with an announcer in older adverts featuring Charlie the Tuna saying "Sorry, Charlie". The announcer then says it's time to thank Charlie, and features several people saying "Thanks, Charlie", instead of "Sorry, Charlie".
Herschel Bernardi, the original voice of the character, died on May 9, 1986. Danny Dark, narrator of the adverts, died on June 13, 2004. Tom Rogers, Charlie's creator, died on June 24, 2005.
In popular culture
Charlie and the catchphrase "Sorry, Charlie" are very popular in North America. The "Sorry, Charlie" slogan was parodied mercilessly by Canadian editorial cartoonists and journalists. The comedian George Carlin took up the slogan after "reporting" that Charlie had died from mercury poisoning.
Los Angeles radio personality and voiceover artist Charlie Tuna (real name Art Ferguson) chose his on-air name early in his career upon the departure of another Oklahoma City DJ.
In 1968, a hand-carved Charlie statue was erected in Charlestown, Oregon, as the mascot of the town. It became a popular roadside attraction.
In 2003, Charlie appeared in the red carpet in the first annual TV Land Awards. That same year, actress Maila Nurmi claimed that Charlie was first sketched by the actor James Dean on a napkin at Googie’s on Sunset Strip, six years before his actual debut. Her claim proved to be false.
In 2004, Charlie was made part of the Advertising Week Walk of Fame on New York City’s Madison Avenue.
In February 2005, just four months before Tom Roger's death, Charlie appeared in the MasterCard advert "Icons", along with Mr. Clean, Count Chocula, Mr. Peanut, the Vlasic Stork, the Morton Salt Girl, the Gorton's fisherman, the Pillsbury Doughboy, Chef Boyardee and the Jolly Green Giant.
In 2010, a Charlie sign was unveiled on Pittsburgh’s Northside, home of StarKist headquarters.
In 2012, Charlie appeared in the much-maligned animated movie Foodfight!, along with several other licensed characters.