Two of the most seemingly innocent characters of mid-20th century pop culture are Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich. Both of them are largely devoid of any complex storytelling by design, typically only appearing in a light, gag comic books aimed directly at young readers.
While both of these characters were staples of Harvey Comics, a surprisingly persistent fan theory suggests that the two characters have a much darker connection than anyone ever really realized. The idea posits that Richie Rich eventually died, and came back from the spirit realm as Casper. While this gives Casper an even sadder backstory than he already has, this idea has lingered for generations. Now, we're taking a closer look into this idea and what's kept it alive, even as the characters increasingly fade from prominence.
Richie Rich was created by Alfred Harvey and Warren Kremer in 1953. He was the only son of incredibly wealthy parents and lived as the world's richest child. At the height of his popularity, he was successfully starring in multiple long-running comics at the same time. The comics were typically gag-heavy about how ludicrously wealthy he was and how fun that could be with almost no adult supervision to speak of. However, as the perception of the super-wealthy has changed, the character's presence has been somewhat reduced in pop culture. Still, Richie Rich was the subject of a 1994 movie, where he was portrayed by Macaulay Culkin, and he's appeared on two Netflix shows.
Casper the Friendly Ghost was initially intended as a children's book by Seymour Reit and Joe Oriolo. The character was picked up by Paramount Pictures' animation division. The character quickly became a popular fixture of comics and cartoons, eventually even appearing in a number of films, including a beloved 1995 live-action film simply titled Casper. The charming specter lives in a world where ghosts are typically determined to scare humans as much as possible. But Casper breaks from the mold and just wants to have a friend to spend his (after)life with. Casper's flexible origins and more light-hearted approach to the supernatural makes him a more immediately adaptable character.
While comparisons between the two characters happened for years in playgrounds across the nation, the theory that these two characters shared a dark connection went mainstream when it was featured on one of the most popular TV shows of the '90s.
The Simpsons Point
The Simpsons famously poked fun at the theory in the Season 2 episode "Three Men and a Comic Book". At one point, Bart and Lisa Simpson are sitting in the back of the family car with Richie Rich and Casper the Friendly Ghost comic books. The two of them bring up how similar the two characters look, with Bart pointing it out to Lisa. Both of them wonder if Richie died and became Casper, with Lisa even (darkly) theorizing that he "realized how hollow the pursuit of money really is and took his own life." It's a grim interpretation of Richie Rich, but coming from Lisa it's a painfully dramatic interpretation.
On top of spreading the idea of Casper eventually dying and becoming a ghost, it also helped lead to the spread of a Simpsons meme centered around Marge's response of "Kids, could you lighten up a little?" where Marge hears their morbid conversation and asks them to lighten up instead. Despite Marge's request, the theory persisted with some fans, who maintained Lisa's idea that Richie died young and spent his afterlife without any of the inherent friends and protections he'd had in life.
The Theory Returns
The theory resurfaced on the internet when writer Charles Pulliam thought of another potential way that Richie could have died on Twitter. Namely, that Richie's parents killed him for the insurance that would pay off in the result of his death. This could be one way for the Riches to extend their riches during the recent financial downturns over the last decade. It gives a darker edge to the theory and how the world of Casper operates.
Casper the Ghost is a cautionary tale about how Richie Rich's parents killed him for the insurance money. pic.twitter.com/xD9vwoW0Jv— Charles Pulliam-Moore @ NYCC (@CharlesPulliam) March 27, 2018
The moment quickly blew up on social media, leading Twitter to even commemorate the theory by creating a "moments" page about the response. While many people on the social media platform agreed with Pulliam-Moore's idea, some responded by pointing out the comics that the two characters briefly shared.
However, in comic books, multiple versions of the same character exist side-by-side all the time. The idea also has a bit of dramatic irony, considering that Richie, despite his casual generosity, still abused his wealth to the point where he had his dog literally covered in molten gold. That he ended up being killed to so his parents could continue the same lives that had doomed their riches in the first place strikes some sort of cosmic balance.
While the overall theory will almost certainly never be confirmed, its continued presence in pop culture remains the odd, unlikely legacy of two comic book titans from another age.