NORMAN BRIDWELL, a soft-spoken illustrator whose impromptu story about a girl and her puppy marked the unlikely birth of the supersized franchise Clifford the Big Red Dog, has died at 86.

Bridwell, who lived for decades in a house with a bright red door on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, died Friday at Martha's Vineyard Hospital, where he had been for about three weeks after a fall at home, his wife, Norma, said.

He suffered from several ailments, including a recurrence of prostate cancer, she said. He passed peacefully with family members at his bedside, she said.

Starting in 1963 with "Clifford, the Big Red Dog," Bridwell wrote and illustrated more than 40 Clifford books, from "Clifford and the Grouchy Neighbors" to "Clifford Goes to Hollywood." More than 120 million copies have sold worldwide, along with cartoons, a feature film, a musical, stuffed animals, key chains, posters and stickers. Images of Clifford have appeared everywhere from museums to the White House.

"A lot of people were Clifford fans and that makes them Norman fans, too," said his wife of 56 years.

Clifford became standard nighttime reading for many families and a money machine for publisher Scholastic Inc. Spin-offs include cartoons with John Ritter as the voice of Clifford and future "Hunger Games" novelist Suzanne Collins among the script writers.

Scholastic, which became a top children's publisher thanks in part to Clifford, installed bright- red cushions on the chairs in the corporate headquarters' auditorium in New York.

Bridwell had completed two more Clifford books to be released next year, Scholastic said in a statement.