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John Risdall didn't hunt or collect firearms, but his marketing know-how and entrepreneurial savvy helped him create an iconic American pistol that became a favorite of action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Desert Eagle, which Risdall affectionately described as a "sexy" handgun, has become one of the most recognized firearms of all time thanks to its appearance in Schwarzenegger blockbusters and dozens of other films and television shows.

Risdall, who founded his own advertising agency in 1972, died Dec. 15. He was 77.

Risdall was a born entrepreneur. He covertly sold candy bars to his elementary school classmates in St. Paul and peddled ice cream at his mother's Baskin-Robbins outlet in Roseville.

He brought his love of sweets with him when he created his own advertising agency. Co-workers recall how Risdall stocked the office with more than 100 bowls of candy, urging employees and visitors to help themselves to a king-size Snickers or other confection.

"One of his adages was 'Give yourself a treat every day,' " said his son, Ted Risdall, who took over the Risdall Marketing Group when his father stepped down from day-to-day management in 2014.

For decades, Risdall ran one of the state's biggest agencies. Risdall provided advertising and marketing services to nearly a third of the state's top 100 public companies, with annual billings routinely topping $100 million.

Many people who still work in the industry got their start at what was then known as Risdall Linnihan Advertising. The company employed as many as 110 people, with dozens coming straight from the University of Minnesota.

"He's empowered so many talented people," Albert Tims, former director of the university's School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said in a 2010 interview. "He's not afraid of having people in the room who are as smart as he is."

Visitors were sometimes surprised when they walked into the firm's New Brighton offices, which were decorated with more than 400 pieces of neon artwork.

"It was definitely an alternative universe," Ted Risdall said.

Risdall enjoyed wearing expensive suits and ties, and if someone liked what he was wearing, he would often take off his tie and give it to them — even if it cost $1,000, Ted Risdall said.

"He always gave generous gifts at Christmas," said his wife, Tina Karelson, who started out at the agency as a copywriter. "The first year I was there, everybody got a camera."

Risdall frequently invested in start-ups, helping launch more than 100 new businesses over the years. His biggest success was Magnum Research, maker of the Desert Eagle. The company was put together in 1979 by friends who attended Mounds View High School, including Risdall, who initially was asked to find financing.

Dozens of banks turned them down. Risdall and his partners had to mortgage their homes and raise $1 million in collateral to obtain their first loan. It took another four years to find a design worth making.

The first gun, in Risdall's view, was "ugly." He kept telling the Israeli manufacturers that he wanted something "sexy," like a sports car. They finally came up with a design Risdall and his partners liked.

"It wasn't all round and fussy," said Doug Evans, former president of Magnum Research. "It's brutish."

Sales, which barely topped $100,000 in Magnum's first year, hit $20 million by the time Evans retired in 2001. The company, based in Pillager, Minn., was purchased by Kahr Firearms Group in 2010.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27, at Holcomb-Henry-Boom-Purcell Funeral Home in Shoreview. A reception will follow at the North Oaks Golf Club.