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Trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams Dies

July 19, 2001

VENICE, Fla. (AP) _ Gunther Gebel-Williams, the circus animal trainer who delighted ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, during his three decades with the Greatest Show on Earth, died of cancer Thursday at 66.

Gebel-Williams, who died at his home, never missed a performance during his career with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

``Whether he was working with tigers, leopards, elephants, horses or a giraffe, you immediately knew that he was special because his incredible rapport with animals was unsurpassed,″ said Kenneth Feld, chairman of Feld Entertainment and a friend.

In addition to working the center ring with the circus, the flashy performer was featured in TV specials and advertisements.

Gebel-Williams performed with elephants, tigers, leopards, lions, panthers, mountain lions, horses, goats, camels, zebras and a giraffe.

He performed in the giant steel cage for the last time in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Sept. 27, 1998, when he filled in for his son, Mark Oliver.

Gebel-Williams, born in Schweidnitz, Germany in 1934, was introduced to circus life at 12 when his mother joined Circus Williams as a wardrobe assistant.

He learned how to work with animals from circus owner Harry Williams. He took over management of the popular German circus upon Williams’ death.

In 1968, Ringling Bros.′ owner Irvin Feld acquired Circus Williams to get the talented Gebel-Williams. Gebel-Williams became a quick hit with American audiences.

Gebel-Williams underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor last July. Sigrid Gebel-Williams said her husband realized something was wrong when he lost his peripheral vision during a training session with two tigers. He felt dizzy and weak and walked into one of them.

Gebel-Williams had been with Ringling Bros. since 1969 and was vice president of animal welfare for the circus, overseeing about 400 animals.

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