Vince Egan didn't have children, but he fathered a beloved, family-friendly show enjoyed by millions of young people.
"Sesame Street Live," a touring stage show featuring live Muppets singing and dancing, was Egan's brainchild and passion. As owner of the Minnesota-based VEE Corp., Egan managed "Sesame Street Live" for 35 years, making it the longest running live touring show for kids in history.
Egan, 74, of Dayton, Minn., died last Thursday of a heart attack.
Egan traveled the world with his productions, giving speeches when each new show opened and delighting in the faces of exuberant young fans.
"He was really a kid at heart," said friend Carolyn Huble, former vice president of marketing at VEE Corp.
The corporation and its offshoots employed more than 300 people and produced other shows over time, including "My Little Pony" and "Hello Kitty." Egan founded two related companies — one sold concessions and another booked shows internationally.
"He always said he wanted 'Sesame Street Live' to be a first Broadway show for young people," said friend Nick LaFontaine, a former vice president of VEE Corp.
Another division of his company made costumes, including mascots.
But "Sesame Street Live" was "truly his baby," said his wife, Sue Rawlings.
Born in Minneapolis in 1942, Egan attended Shattuck-St. Mary's in Faribault and then the University of Minnesota.
He credited his strict military-style education with giving him a personal philosophy: "You're in charge of your own life, so you better fight for it," Rawlings said.
After serving in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, Egan worked at Buick and then with the Ice Follies. When the company was sold, he lost his job.
That's when he hatched the idea to create a new kind of family entertainment, an alternative to the circus. He knew Jim Henson from the Ice Follies and inquired about putting his Muppets in a live show. Henson loved the concept, and Egan staged his first "Sesame Street Live" show in 1980.
It failed to catch on at first, in part because people didn't understand what it was, Rawlings said. That changed after he sold out Madison Square Garden over Christmas in 1980. Suddenly, national venues wanted to book the show. Other shows followed, and "Sesame Street Live" traveled to Europe and Asia.
"When the characters came out, it was like an explosion in there," said Huble, describing the reaction of thousands of 3- and 4-year-olds upon spotting Big Bird.
Egan reunited with Rawlings, whom he'd dated briefly before. They fell in love and moved to Egan's Dayton farm, which grew to 122 acres. He often said he was "just a farm boy from Dayton, Minnesota," Rawlings said.
Egan was outgoing and larger than life, a big man with a booming voice whom Huble likened to John Wayne. He was full of stories and chatted with everyone he met.
"He didn't care if we went out to dinner with the CEO of Wells Fargo or … the guy who digs our wells," Rawlings said. "He never talked down to you."
Rawlings and Egan dated for 35 years but were married for just 35 days. The wedding was spurred by Egan's illness and a lighthearted promise he made to marry Rawlings before she turned 70. "We did everything together — we were a team," Rawlings said.
Egan sold the VEE Corp. in 2015. Its successor, VStar Entertainment, still puts on "Sesame Street Live."
The pair traveled extensively and Egan also loved airplanes and using a flight simulator in his free time.
Egan is survived by Rawlings and many friends and family members. A celebration of his life will be held Monday at Word of Peace Lutheran Church in Rogers.