Casino Magnate Steve Wynn Buys 7-Foot Stainless Steel Popeye Statue for $28 Million

Casino magnate Steve Wynn bought Jeff Koons’ stainless steel Popeye statue Wednesday night for $28 million and plans to publicly display the Sailor Man at his Las Vegas hotel.

Well, blow me down.

Steve Wynn, the American business and casino magnate, bought a 7-foot-tall stainless steel statue of the iconic cartoon character Popeye—a creation of artist Jeff Koons’—for $28 million Wednesday evening at Sotheby’s in New York City. The brilliantly colored sailor man is posed with his impressive, cleft chin jutting out, his right hand clutching an open can of spinach and his left arm raised high, tattooed bicep bulging.

The sale, an Evening Auction of Contemporary Art, featured 79 lots and realized $364.4 million. Twelve pieces did not sell and eight auction records were set that night.

According to Sotheby’s, Wynn intends to display “Popeye” in front of his Las Vegas hotel.


Koons produced three “Popeye” statues between 2009 and 2011. The all-American cartoon hero weighs 2,000 pounds and is marked on the bottom as 3/3. The realized price of $28 million, a little more than the pre-sale estimate of $25 million, isn’t bad for a one-eyed, pipe-chewing seadog who was never intended to last.

This “Popeye” is signed, dated 2009-2011 and numbered 3/3 on the underside of Popeye’s right foot. It is made of high-chromium stainless steel with transparent color coating.

Popeye, now 85, was originally conceived in 1929 by Elzie Crisler Segar as side character for the daily strip “The Thimble Theatre,” which featured a family of oddballs, including a skinny, gangly old maid named Olive Oyl, her boyfriend Ham Gravy and her harebrained brother Castor Oyl.

Segar was hired by the New York Evening Journal in 1919 and tasked with writing and drawing a new comic strip to be called the “Thimble Theater.” That was all the supervision he received, so with a free hand, he created the cast, mainly surrounding the Oyl family, headed by father and mother Cole and Nana Oyl, and rounded out with Olive and Castor.

Popeye’s Humble Origins
Starting with the four-panel template in which the joke paid off in panel four, Segar eventually began writing story arcs that ran for weeks or months. In 1929, he wrote a story line in which Ham and Castor hatch a plan to find and capture the fabled Whiffle Hen. Since the two adventurers knew nothing about sailing, they head to the wharf to recruit someone who could handle their boat. On June 17, 1929, Castor walks up to a squinty-eyed, slope-shouldered man with a pipe on his mouth and an anchor tattoo on his huge forearm and asks, “Are you a sailor?”

The sailor answered back, “Ja think I’m a cowboy?” and thus, Popeye the Sailor Man was born.

Popeye was never supposed to last longer than the Whiffle Hen story but the character was embraced by the American public—a sort of everyman struggling through the hardships of the Great Depression. Strong, buoyant and supremely self-assured, Popeye stood up to and, ultimately, overcame the hardships thrown in his way. It was his gumption and resourcefulness, and tendency to stand up to and defeat bullies, that helped propel the sailor man to national fame.

“Ja think I’m a cowboy?” The birth of Popeye the Sailor Man.

When the sailor man disappeared form the strip, readers wrote their newspapers, insisting that Popeye should become a regular member of the “The Thimble Theater” cast. Eventually, Olive Oyl gave Ham Gravy the old heave-ho and began dating Popeye, who also soon received top billing in the newly renamed “Thimble Theater, starring Popeye.”

Gregory Watkins is the editor of You can e-mail him at

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