From news services

Gary Dahl, the creator of the wildly popular 1970s fad the Pet Rock, died March 23 in Jacksonville, Ore. He was 78.

His wife, Marguerite Dahl, said that he had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Inventor Gary Dahl with Pet Rock items in 1976, at the height of the craze. (San Francisco Chronicle via Associated Press)

Pet Rocks were smooth stones that came packed in a cardboard box containing a tongue-in-cheek instruction pamphlet for “care and feeding.” Mr. Dahl estimated he had sold 1.5 million of them at roughly $4 each by the time the fad fizzled. The Pet Rock required no work and no time commitment.

Gary Ross Dahl was born Dec. 18, 1936, in Bottineau, N.D., and grew up in Spokane, Wash.

He was an advertising executive in Los Gatos, Calif., in 1975 when he came up with the Pet Rock idea. He was also the author of “Advertising for Dummies.”

In 2000, Mr. Dahl was a grand prize winner in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for dreadful prose. His winning entry: “The heather-encrusted Headlands, veiled in fog as thick as smoke in a crowded pub, hunched precariously over the moors, their rocky elbows slipping off land’s end, their bulbous, craggy noses thrust into the thick foam of the North Sea like bearded old men falling asleep in their pints. “

The Pet Rock craze “was great fun when it happened,” his wife recalled in a telephone interview. Over time, however, “people would come to him with weird ideas, expecting him to do for them what he had done for himself. And a lot of times they were really, really stupid ideas.”

By 1988, Mr. Dahl told the Associated Press he had avoided interviews for years because of what he called “a bunch of wackos” appearing out of nowhere with threats and lawsuits.

Of the little rock that became a household word, he said, “Sometimes I look back and wonder if my life wouldn’t have been simpler if I hadn’t done it.”

Mr. Dahl also designed and built the Carry Nations bar in Los Gatos, his wife said.

In addition to his wife, survivors include three children; a stepdaughter; and a sister.