Ivan, the western lowland gorilla, died in August. Hardly anybody noticed. But I noticed. I am the Ivan the Gorilla of local TV reporters.
Everybody knew Willie B. Willie B was Zoo Atlanta’s trailblazer, the Alpha gorilla who symbolized the zoo’s resurgence in the 1980s.
With an eye on freshening the gorilla habitat’s gene pool, Zoo Atlanta acquired Ivan in 1995. Ivan lived in Willie B’s shadow for years. “Is that Willie B?” one could hear visitors at the zoo say, while pointing at Ivan.
Ivan’s higher-profile colleague / competitor sucked down all the star power at the zoo’s Ford African Rain Forest. Ivan brooded in his shadow.
When I go out to cover news, I am frequently greeted by with politely-concealed disappointment. When the 11Alive truck pulls up, the public wants to see Brenda Wood jump out. Instead, they get me.
Like Ivan, viewers of Atlanta TV news frequently mistake me for other TV news silverbacks.
Yet Ivan had a back story that was more interesting than that of Willie B. He lived in a display in a Tacoma Washington shopping center for 27 years, an object of wonderment and pity. Petitions were presented to “free Ivan,” and his plight became a cause célèbre. Yet he didn’t get sent to Atlanta until the shopping center went into bankruptcy.
Ivan wasn’t liberated. He was liquidated.
Though Willie B and I were born a year apart, I relate more to Ivan. He was famously awkward. When he was first introduced to female gorillas at Zoo Atlanta, he more or less turned tail and ran. The ladies scared him to death.
Willie B was named after an Atlanta mayor. Willie B was immortalized in a bronze statue. When Willie B died, it was almost as big a deal as Monica’s retirement.
Ivan will be memorialized at Zoo Atlanta Saturday. Ivan will likely get no statue.
Yet second bananas everywhere will toast the life of Ivan.