Popeye, the Sailor Man was created by cartoonist E.C Segar in 1929. Most know him for his toilet-destroying diet consisting mostly of canned spinach. Lied to by our parents, many of us also believed we would turn into old-timey Super Saiyans if we downed our leafy greens as he did. Popeye first appeared as a featured character in Segar’s newspaper comic strip, Thimble Theatre. People loved the introduction of his character, and he soon became the star of the story.

But was it all just a random bolt of creation from Segar's imagination? According to residents of Segar's hometown, Chester, Illinois, another local Frank “Rocky” Fiegel was the real-life Popeye. 

Fiegel was more into bartending, less into spinach-fueled sailing, but was still said to have a notorious gift for fist fighting. Case in point, his nephew, Clyde Feegies, recalling a story of his uncle visiting a saloon: 

“They 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, but he (Fiegel) put on the gloves and knocked their guy out.” 

Physically, he sported a prominent chin, a “popped” eye from his brawling, and frequently had a character-identifying pipe in the corner of his mouth. Less Popeye-like was his tendency to scare local children off his porch, though he apparently made up for it by blocking off bullies and giving them change.

If you’re trying to imagine what real-life Popeye would look like, photos of Fiegel have circulated the internet, and one, in particular, was found to not be of him, though wow, does it look like it could be:

Imperial War Museum

This image pops up a lot, but was identified as a “British sailor who is listed in the Imperial War Museum as ‘A Leading Stoker nicknamed "Popeye," with 21 years in service and fighting aboard the HMS Rodney in 1940.” So timewise, it would not make sense

According to a local paper, The Southern Illinoisan, this was the real Fiegel: 

Frank Fiegel

Still has the pipe in his mouth, so I suppose he qualifies.

It’s understood that Fiegel didn’t know of his inspiration for the cartoon character until the last years of his life. After being buried in an unmarked grave for nearly 50 years, Frank finally received a tombstone bearing an acknowledgment and an image of the famed character he helped bring out to the world.

Top Image: Warner Bros.

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