Gunther Gebel-Williams

From the moment Gunther Gebel-Williams stepped into the giant steel cage of The Greatest Show On Earth®, he was destined to change the face of the American circus forever. His totally unique style and uncanny rapport with his animal charges placed Gunther as a circus performer in a category all to himself. One of the few performers in any entertainment industry to become a legend in his own time, Gunther Gebel-Williams is universally known as The Greatest Wild Animal Trainer of All Time!

From the age of 12 in World War II Germany, learning the ins and outs of circus life at The Circus Williams, Gunther knew that the circus would be his life. As a young animal trainer and performer, he became the rage of the European circus world, and in 1968, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Circus owner Irvin Feld purchased the entire Circus Williams just to acquire the extraordinary talents and performing arts of Gunther. He made his American debut on January 6, 1969, in the world premiere of the 99th Edition of The Greatest Show On Earth at the circus' winter quarters in Venice, Florida.

In 1973 he was named "Outstanding Circus Performer of the Year" by the American Guild of Variety Artists. He was featured in a CBS-TV network special, Lord of the Rings, with Tony Curtis in 1977, plus a second nationally televised special in the 1981 NBC-TV production, My Father, the Circus King, a behind-the-scenes look at Gunther through the eyes of his son, Mark Oliver, now a featured performer with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. He has been a guest on numerous national television shows, including his memorable visit with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, where Gunther brought along a tiger for the show. But perhaps the most recognizable television appearance Gunther made was as a featured star of the noted American Express commercial, which pictured Gunther with his favorite leopard, Kenny, draped across his shoulders.

Gunther Gebel-Williams performed for more than a quarter century with The Greatest Show On Earth, where he presented horses, elephants, tigers, leopards, lions, cheetahs, pumas, panthers, mountain lions, a giraffe, dogs, goats, zebras and a rare white tiger. He entertained an estimated 200 million people live and in person, a record that will never be broken by any circus performer. In fact, during his entire American performing career, Gunther never missed a show in more than 12,000 performances, an achievement honored by his induction into the Madison Square Garden's Walk of Fame in 1995.

Throughout his illustrious career, Gunther not only earned the respect and applause of circus fans and audiences everywhere, he captured the imagination of the American public with his dashing style and daring performances. But perhaps more importantly, Gunther demonstrated to all that humans and animals should work, live and thrive together in harmony, banishing the outdated notion of "man versus beast." Since Gunther Gebel-Williams, the American circus has forever changed, and because of Gunther, we have all learned more about the beauty, majesty and sheer splendor of the world's most exotic creatures.

Gunther Gebel-Williams was honored in grand circus tradition as the 1999 inductee into the International Circus Hall of Fame in Peru, Indiana. As an additional honor, Gunther served as grand marshal of the 40th annual Circus City Festival Circus Parade. "Contrary to years past, we made sure that he was the only person being inducted this year, the last of the millennium," said Tom Dunwoody, board president of the Hall of Fame. "It wouldn't be appropriate for him to share the spotlight."

Gunther Tribute:
Career Highlights:
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