Gorilla Willie B. dies at 41 in Atlanta

ATLANTA - Willie B., the Zoo Atlanta gorilla who spent 27 years in isolation with only a caretaker and a television for company before being introduced to other gorillas and finally becoming a father, has died.

Willie, 41, had been sick since early January, when he caught the flu and then contracted pneumonia which caused stress on his heart. Veterinarians said he suffered from cardiomyopathy, which reduces the ability of the heart to contract strongly enough.

"Willie passed away peacefully as he slept early this afternoon," Zoo Atlanta spokeswoman Gail Eaton said yesterday.

Willie's success gave zoo officials the confidence to help another isolated gorilla in 1994. Ivan, who had spent more than two decades on display at a mall in Tacoma was brought to the zoo to be reintroduced to gorilla society.

Ivan, who is about 30, is owned by Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo. Zoo director Dave Towne said late yesterday that Ivan has failed to learn much about fatherhood from Willie B.

"We had hoped he would be able to teach Ivan the same tricks, but so far Ivan hasn't shown a lot of interest in the females," Towne said.

He said before Ivan gets too old, he may one day be returned to Woodland Park Zoo to see if a change in climate will spark his ardor.

"Willie B. was a great success story," Towne said. "We're still working with Ivan."

The average lifespan of a gorilla in captivity is about 40