As Charlie Brown would say, "Good grief."

Charles M. Schulz, the beloved creator of the Peanuts comic strip, died late Saturday night at his home in Santa Rosa, California. He was suffering from colon cancer and reportedly died from a heart attack in his sleep, with his wife, Jean, at his side. He was 77.

The announcement was made by his son Craig in the early hours of Sunday morning as fans worldwide awoke to find Schulz's final cartoon in the newspaper.

For almost 50 years, Schulz has charmed and amused readers of his daily strip featuring good ol' Charlie Brown; tart-tongued Lucy; brainy Linus and his security blanket; the unflappable, flap-eared beagle, Snoopy; and a host of other eternal children. Much sadness was felt--by over 350 million readers of more than 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries--that the cartoon was ending, the result of Schulz's retirement after he was diagnosed with colon cancer in November.

The final strip, appearing today, features all the Peanuts regulars along with a letter, typed by Snoopy, in which the artist thanks all his fans.

It reads: "Dear Friends, I have been fortunate to draw Charlie Brown and his friends for almost 50 years. It has been the fulfillment of my childhood ambition.

Unfortunately, I am no longer able to maintain the schedule demanded by a daily comic strip. My family does not wish Peanuts to be continued by anyone else, therefore I am announcing my retirement.

I have been grateful over the years for the loyalty of our editors and the wonderful support and love expressed to me by fans of the comic strip. Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, can I ever forget them..."

Signed by Schulz, the strip is decorated with classic Peanuts images, including Lucy snatching the football out of kicking range of the "little round-headed kid" and Snoopy trying to snatch Linus' blanket.

Now fans feel doubly sad that Schulz has been snatched from them. Tributes are pouring in from everywhere for the essentially private man, born in St. Paul, Minnesota, who studied art after he saw a "Do you like to draw?" advertisement.

After a stint in the U.S. Army in World War II, Schulz taught art and sold cartoons, eventually developing a newspaper strip called Li'l Folks, which was renamed Peanuts when it was sold to syndication in 1950. Over the years, the Peanuts gang appeared in books, advertisements, TV movies like It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and starred in a Broadway musical, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, while Snoopy, in particular, became a favorite toy and piloted his own blimp for MetLife insurance.

Schulz moved to Santa Rosa in 1958, working there at his studio and spending time hanging out and playing hockey at the local ice rink. He was to have been honored in May with a lifetime achievement award by the National Cartoonists Society.

The modest artist, who always wished he was "a better drawer," once said, "Why do musicians compose symphonies and poets write poems? They do it because life wouldn't have any meaning for them if they didn't. That's why I draw cartoons. It's my life."

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