CORONADO, Calif., Sept. 19 -- Gourmet popcorn entrepreneur Orville Redenbacher, famous for his TV commercial appearances with bowtie and suspenders, was found dead Tuesday at his home outside San Diego. He was 88. Redenbacher, who spent more than 40 years developing his special hybrid of popping corn, had been living alone in the condominium he owned at Coronado Shores in the town of Coronado, City Manager Homer Bludau said. Police said no trauma or foul play was suspected in Redenbacher's death. His body was discovered in his bathroom a little after 6 a.m. A doorman at his condo called police, but it not immediately announced who found the body. Bludau said police believe Redenbacher had either fallen in the bathtub or died of natural causes. The exact cause will likely not be determined until early Wednesday. Redenbacher's spokeswoman Renee Groblewski said the creator of the nation's top-selling popcorn had no known medical problems and was traveling and making appearances. 'He was really healthy for being 88 years old. This was sort of unexpected. But then again, he is 88,' she said. He attended a friend's wedding in Indianapolis last weekend and appeared to be fine, she said. Redenbacher was the creator and television pitchman for his brand of Orville Redenbacher's Gourmet Popping Corn. He also traveled to some 80 countries in the 1970s as a goodwill ambassador to talk about crops, particularly the white puffy stuff. His popcorn career dates back to his Indiana childhood when his family grew the kernels on a farm for extra spending money, said Groblewski, who spent nearly a decade working with the popcorn entrepreneur.
He was also heavily involved in 4-H during his high school years. In 1928, he went on to study at Purdue University, where research in popcorn hybridization was being pioneered. He also played the sousaphone in Purdue's marching band. Groblewski said Redenbacher was frequently overheard recalling his college days with the popped grains, saying 'I messed with the sex life of the popcorn plant to get my hybrid.' Groblewski has fond memories of Redenbacher. 'Orville did what he wanted to do. He didn't care what people thought. He was very goal-oriented. That's why he was successful. He never took no for an answer.' After graduating from Purdue in 1928 with a bachelor's degree in agriculture, he went on to manage Indiana's 12,000-acre Princeton Farms. In 1952, Redenbacher joined his longtime friend Charles Bowman to buy Chester Hybrids, which formed the basis for the popcorn company they later founded, Chester, Inc. in Valparaiso, Ind. From here, Orville Redenbacher's Gourmet Popping Corn blossomed. As the chairman of the board for Chester, Redenbacher also served as the spokesman for the company. In 1976, Redenbacher sold his popping corn business to Hunt-Wesson, which markets the product as America's No. 1 selling popcorn. In 1988, he was awarded an honorary doctoral degree from Purdue University for his work. He revolutionized the popcorn industry, said David Gustin, Hunt- Wesson's president. 'Orville's entrepreneurial spirit, dedication and enthusiasm were hallmarks of his life. He was a good friend and close associate to many of us at Hunt-Wesson and he will be greatly missed.' Redenbacher had lived in Coronado for at least eight years and was an active member of the community who frequently attended local events, Coronado's city manager said. 'A lot of people wanted to come up to him and meet him because he was so recognizable. He was always very kind to them,' the city manager said. He also continued to make personal appearances and commercials, most recently with his grandson, Gary. Redenbacher is survived by his two daughters, 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.