The California native also helped create the popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise in a lifetime working for Mattel

He-Man and another Masters of the Universe figure, Battle Cat. T Mark Taylor, the artist and designer who helped create the figures, has died aged 80
Photograph: Chris Willson/Alamy

T Mark Taylor, artist and toy designer for the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe franchise as well as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, has died of heart failure at his home in southern California. He was 80.

He-Man was the muscled frontman for toy manufacturer Mattel’s Masters of the Universe franchise, which would later spawn an animated series that became a staple for children.

He-Man might have been known as a hulking superhero warrior but also became renowned within the LGBTQ+ community, who saw parallels in the secret life of Prince Adam, He-Man’s alter ego.

As in the case of many creative endeavours, many hands shaped the franchise. Taylor has said the prototypes date back to his own childhood as he fantasised about being “the next hero”. He said he based the concept of He-Man on his vision of Cro-Magnon men, as well as Vikings.

Mattel sold more than 70m action figures from its Masters of the Universe collection within 30 months of it hitting stores nearly 40 years ago, according to The New York Times.

Taylor began his career with California-based Mattel in 1976 as a packaging designer, his family said.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise – featuring pizza-loving Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael and Leonardo – launched a long-running animated series, live-action movies and a catchphrase: cowabunga!

While Taylor did not create any of the characters, his work as a designer helped propel them into famous childhood images for many around the world, including action figures and costumes that flew off stores’ shelves.

Terrell Mark Taylor – who went by his middle name, Mark – was born on 5 June 1941, according to California voter registration records. He is survived by his wife of 50 years, designer Rebecca Salari-Taylor of Ranchos Palos Verdes.

“I felt him say goodbye to this world as I held him in my arms for one final loving kiss,” Salari-Taylor wrote in a Facebook post.

Taylor’s family said his father-in-law, Tony Salari, told the artist: “If you can draw well, everything will be OK.”

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Taylor took pinstriping commissions for “hot rod” cars as a teen in Redondo Beach in the early 1950s, his family said. He later attended the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena.

Taylor went on to work for the US defence department in Pasadena and contributed to projects for submarines, biological and technical sonar technology and seafloor mapping, his family said.

“If I was going to do a hero for today, it would be a female hero – because it’s the time, because the heroes of our time are women … Us men had our day,” Taylor told fans during an appearance at a He-Man festival in 2015.


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