Joe Camp, Creator and Director of ‘Benji’ Films, Dies at 84

Joe Camp, the creator, director and writer of the “Benji” films, died March 15. He was 84.

Camp died Friday morning at his home in Bell Buckle, Tenn., following a battle with illness, according to his son, filmmaker and writer of the 2018 “Benji” reboot, Brandon Camp.

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Camp had nearly no Hollywood experience before he raised $500,000 to make the first “Benji” film, a family movie about a lovable mutt who saves a pair of children from kidnappers. Higgins the dog, who previously appeared on the CBS sitcom “Petticoat Junction,” came out of retirement to star in the titular role.

After having no luck acquiring distribution, Camp formed his own distribution company Mulberry Square Releasing in 1974 to distribute the film himself. “Benji” would go on to gross almost $40 million ($250 million after inflation).

Camp would follow up the original with “For the Love of Benji” in 1977 and “Oh! Heavenly Dog” in 1980, which starred Chevy Chase as a detective reincarnated as the heroic canine. The series also spawned a made for TV Christmas special in 1978 and a TV series in 1983 titled “Benji, Zax & the Alien Prince.” The final two films would come in 1987 with his collaboration with Disney “Benji the Hunted” and in 2004 with “Benji: Off the Leash!”

Behind the scenes, Camp was a dedicated animal lover and best selling author. He published his book “The Soul of a Horse: Life Lessons from the Herd” in 2008, which chronicled what he learned from working with the majestic creatures. Camp also served as a board member for several charities, activist groups and schools, including Piney Woods School in Mississippi.

Camp is survived by his wife, Kathleen; his two sons, Joe and Brandon; and his step-children David, Dylan and Allegra.

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