GRAPEVINE, Texas -- George "Spanky" McFarland, the cuddly, chubby entertainer who charmed millions as the star of the "Our Gang" comedy series, died of unknown causes yesterday, an hour after being rushed unconscious to Baylor Grapevine Hospital. He was 64. "He made four generations of people all over the world laugh," said his son, Verne McFarland of Watauga, Texas. "You couldn't ask for a better legacy."
The nation was in the grips of the Depression in 1931 when the 3-year-old, Dallas-born "Spanky" joined the mischievous, ragtag youngsters known as Our Gang in exploits that fired the imaginations of children across the country.
The name "Spanky" has been well known to every generation since, as Baby Boomers grew up watching early television reruns of the comedy series, now known as the "Little Rascals," that had enthralled their parents.
News of Mr. McFarland's death saddened actors who had warm memories of working with him on the "Rascals" set 50 years ago.
"He was a super guy," said Dick Moore, who was "Dickie" in the series -- a cute tow-headed youngster. "Spanky was better known and more recognizable than major Hollywood stars."
Mr. McFarland's enduring popularity landed him an appearance on the hit NBC series "Cheers" in April. In the episode, he drops by the bar for a drink and is recognized by the character Cliff.
"He was a favorite of the executive producers when they were growing up, so they invited him and he accepted," said Bob Meyer, NBC manager of media relations.
Mr. McFarland had recently been awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, said his daughter, Betsy McFarland. He never knew of the honor; his wife, Doris, had planned to surprise him with a trip to California for the star's unveiling.
Mr. McFarland spent the last 15 years of his life traveling the country, playing golf and making appearances, usually to raise money for charities, his daughter said.