Sharp-eyed television watchers may be confused about Duke, the dog featured in the humorous ad campaign for Bush's Baked Beans. A golden retriever named Sam, one of several dogs who played Duke in the company's television commercials, passed away June 27. He had been suffering from an aggressive cancer.
But as we reported in early July, Sam was only one of numerous dogs who have portrayed Duke in ads, and Sam actually hadn't appeared in the commercials in years.
"When Sam died, it was obviously sad," Jay Bush, great-grandson of the company's founder, told People magazine on Aug. 8. "When word got out, I had close, personal friends calling me to say they were sorry, asking how the brand would move forward, thinking the one and only Duke had died. We've lost other Dukes, but I suppose not in this world of social media. It was one of those things that makes you think, 'Wow, people really do love the idea of this dog.' "
In the popular and light-hearted ads, Bush and a dog who's always referred to as Duke, despite his or her off-screen name, appear together. Duke constantly tries to scam Bush into allowing him to sell the family's recipe for their baked beans. The ads always include Jay Bush requesting that the camera operator, "Roll that beautiful bean footage!"
The late Sam was the fifth of seven dogs to play Duke. The first dog actor was named Miss Mambo, the late Sam was number five, and the current and seventh dog is named Luke.
The idea to use a dog in the ads was inspired by the real Duke, Jay's own dog, a reddish-furred golden retriever who died in the early 2000s. Bush told People that the real Duke was too shy to be used in the ads.
And losing Sam doesn't mean the company will lose its mascot. The character of Duke is so beloved, Bush told People, that the ads would eliminate Bush himself before they'd stop using the dog.
"We've never thought about shifting away from this current advertising," Bush said, "If anything it's going to be Jay fading off into the sunset and Duke living forever."
In Sam's memory, check out the 15 best recipes for baked beans.