LOS ANGELES (AP) -- James Van Doren, the co-founder of Vans canvas shoes that were embraced by the skateboard culture and became a nationwide sensation when Sean Penn wore a checkerboard pair in the 1982 movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," has died. He was 72.
Van Doren died of cancer at his Fullerton home on Oct. 12, his wife Char told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Van Doren, who was a chemist, and his older brother Paul began selling custom shoes in 1966 from their first store in Anaheim. The brothers only had sample shoes and their made-to-order shoes were often made with the canvas material and patterns brought in by customers.
The Van Doren's and two other co-founders decided the Van Doren Rubber Co. business plan was to eliminate the middleman and sell the rubber-soled shoes directly to the public.
The Orange County skateboard crowd took a liking to the sticky, waffle-pattern rubber soles that helped skaters grip their boards and the casual shoes known simply as Vans quickly became a household name in Southern California by the mid-1970s.
The shoes were essential footwear for hip pre-teens, teens and adults.
The brand got national recognition when Sean Penn wore pair of checkerboard slip-on Vans in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."
"It was completely a surprise," Char Van Doren said. "The checkerboard pattern skyrocketed after that."
By the early 1980s, foreign competition in the athletic shoe business led to heavy losses, prompting the company to file for bankruptcy protection. A court-ordered management shake-up in 1984 led to the departure of James.
Control was returned to Paul, who came out of semi-retirement to run the then-Orange-based firm.
Four years later, an investment banking company bought Vans, which has been sold several times since.
In 2004, Vans Inc., then headquartered in Santa Fe Springs, was bought by Greensboro, N.C.-based VF Corp., a clothing company with brands such as Wrangler jeans, Vanity Fair lingerie and The North Face outdoor line.
The Vans office is now in Cypress, where several Van Doren family members still work.
As for James Van Doren, loyalty to the American-man shoe never waned. His wife says he wore Vans deck shoes "every day of his life."
"I know where he is: He's still in my heart and he's with God," his widow said.
Van Doren's body was cremated and his ashes may be scattered in Hawaii. A memorial Mass is planned Friday morning at Fullerton's St. Juliana Falconieri Catholic Church
Besides his wife, Van Doren is survived by sons James Jr., Mark and Eric; brothers Paul and Robert and sister Bernice Chute.
Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com