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Joseph Pedott, man behind the ch-ch-ch Chia Pet, dies at 91

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

If you picked up gardening over the pandemic like I did, we're not alone. Google searches for the term houseplants hit an all-time high in 2020. And so many young people on the internet have become proud plant owners that some are even saying...

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Dogs are the new children. Plants are the new pets.

SHAPIRO: But if you were around in the 1980s, you know this is not new. Plants have always been pets.

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UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing) Cha-cha-cha chia.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Chia pets, the pottery that grows.

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The Chia Pet was popularized by ad exec Joseph Pedott. The man behind that iconic marketing campaign died on June 22.

SHAPIRO: Originally from Chicago, Pedott's mother died when he was 13. He fled from his abusive father when he was 16 and lived at a YMCA. A Chicago nonprofit helped put him through college, and he went on to found his own advertising agency in California.

SUMMERS: In 1977, Pedott was at a housewares convention when he was introduced to the terracotta figures with chia seeds sprouting from them like fur.

SHAPIRO: He later told the University of Illinois, the first one I ever saw was very crude. It had scorch marks from the oven, and only three of its legs could touch the surface at once, but I liked it. Pedott bought the rights and inventory for $25,000.

SUMMERS: And you do not need us to tell you Pedott's marketing campaign, with its irresistible jingle, was a viral hit. In the years since, Chia Pets have shipped in a variety of shapes.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: And celebrate with country music great Willie Nelson Chia Pet...

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing) Cha-cha-cha chia.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: ...And your favorite painter, Bob Ross Chia Pet.

SHAPIRO: And artists online are making crazier and crazier Chia Pet-inspired art, like the Chia Pet car.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I've always wanted a Chia Pet that was big enough to drive around, so I made this.

SHAPIRO: Throughout his life, Pedott remained grateful to the social services that supported him as a kid. And with his Chia earnings, he helped fund programs for low-income, first-generation college students. Joe Pedott was 91.

(SOUNDBITE OF TWO DOOR CINEMA CLUB SONG, "SOMETHING GOOD CAN WORK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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