In the 41 years since Mario’s first appearance as “Jumpman” in the 1981 Donkey Kong arcade game, we’ve learned quite a bit about the mustachioed hero. We know that he’s Italian (despite Chris Pratt’s casting), that he’s from Brooklyn and that he is, or has been, a plumber. His favorite food is spaghetti, his birthday is October 11th, he enjoys listening to opera and new-wave Europop and he does, indeed, have nipples. Despite all of this, there’s one thing about Mario — and his brother Luigi — that remains shrouded in mystery: We have no idea who his father is.
Mario’s parentage is the subject of numerous Reddit threads, online articles, YouTube videos and fan theories, many of which are still hotly debated today — at least on the paternal side of the equation. The identity of his mother is clearer as she’s been depicted a handful of times across various forms of media. Usually, though, her face is obscured, like in this 1990 comic book:
There is one unobscured appearance of Mario’s mother, however — the 1989 television series The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! That show was a mix of Mario and Luigi cartoons, as well as live-action segments with two actors playing the characters. Luigi was played by an actor named Danny Wells, and Mario was played by wrestler Lou Albano. In one episode Albano pulled double duty as both Mario and Mario’s mother, Mama Mario. By wearing a dress and affecting a falsetto voice, Albano became the mustachioed matriarch of the Mario family.
As for who procreated with this wonderful woman, it’s hard to say — there is zero fucking in the Mario universe. As such, Baby Mario and Baby Luigi didn’t spring from Mama Mario’s loins. Instead, they were brought to her and her mystery husband via a stork, as depicted in the 1995 video game Yoshi’s Island.
In that game, the stork is interrupted on the way to Mama and Papa Mario’s house by a villain named Kamek, who kidnaps Luigi. Meanwhile, Mario gets away and has an adventure saving his brother. At the end of the game, the stork finally delivers Mario and Luigi to their parents, but all you see of them is their lower half.
But in the 2014 sequel to the game, this scene is recreated, only it’s revealed this time that the stork made the delivery to the wrong house. So, the stork grabs Baby Mario and Luigi and proceeds to the correct address. On the way there, the exact same thing happens again — Kamek kidnaps Luigi, and Mario slips away. Mario then has his adventure, saves Luigi and the stork brings them to the right house. Once again though, both of the parents have hidden faces. That said, the guy on the right is confirmed to be Mario’s father within the game, and it’s because of vague appearances like this that his papa is the subject of so many internet theories.
The Dr. Mario Theory
One of these theories is that Dr. Mario is the father of Mario and Luigi. Dr. Mario is usually depicted as just another persona of Mario himself, which he happens to adopt in the Tetris-like Dr. Mario games. There are a couple of instances, though, where Dr. Mario seems to be a different character, including in a few Super Smash Bros. games, as well as in some Japanese comic books.
The theory, as put forth by the Houston Press, states that Dr. Mario is their father. They must be two separate characters, because Mario, with all of his princess-saving adventures, would simply not have time to attain a medical degree. In addition to this, Dr. Mario’s playability in Super Smash Bros. is “slower and more powerful” than standard Mario, suggesting that Dr. Mario might have a bit of old-man strength on his side. Also, even if Dr. Mario isn’t Mario, the name “Dr. Mario” still makes sense, as Mario’s full name is actually “Mario Mario,” which is canon in the games and the movie.
The Shigeru Miyamoto Theory
Another theory, as suggested by Inverse, states that Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto is also Mario’s father. This mostly stems from jokes where he’s called himself “Mario’s dad,” but it does have some actual legs thanks to an official tweet by Nintendo’s Twitter account that did indeed call him that.
The Old Man on the TV Tray Theory
One of the more complex hypotheses on Mario’s father, this one picked up steam about five years ago when redditor l33tredrocket discovered a 1989 TV tray in a local antique shop. The picture on it depicts several bizarre things going on inside of Mario’s house, including a very off-model Bowswer emerging from the television. In the upper right corner of the image, there’s a portrait of a man who looks very much like an older Mario. Thanks to the resemblance and the fact that Mario thought enough of this old fellow to put his portrait on the wall, many believe it’s a depiction of Mario’s dad.
Others did some digging on the image and found out that it was actually an early promotional image for the aforementioned Super Mario Bros. Super Show! (it was also featured in a 1989 issue of Nintendo Power magazine). The image was slightly different, however, and the nameplate on the portrait of the old man wasn’t blank. Unfortunately, the nameplate still proved to be illegible, even on a physical copy of the magazine, per Classic Gaming Quarterly on Twitter, who checked his personal copy for me.
This theory has gained a great deal of attention on Reddit because it also aligns with a few other details known about Mario’s father. For one, the old man smokes a pipe:
This is also true of a confirmed — yet obscured — appearance by Mario’s father in a 1990 comic book where young Mario “fixed” his father’s pipe.
Another thing lending credibility to the portrait of the old man is his outfit. He’s depicted as wearing blue overalls and a yellow shirt. These are the same colors as the comic book image above, and the exact same outfit on yet another obscured image of Mario’s dad.
This image is from a Japanese cartoon called Super Mario Issun-bōshi, which inserted Mario into a classic Japanese fairytale similar to Tom Thumb. In the story, two childless parents wish for a baby, and end up with a one-inch tall child to care for. In this version, Mario is that child, and in one scene, he’s picked up by his father. The father wears the same blue overalls over the same yellow shirt, and has the same mustache as Mario. The theory suggests that the portrait is of the same guy, just older.
The Jumpman Theory
To explain this last theory — which is proposed by the YouTube channel The Game Theorists — you have to consult the Donkey Kong game franchise, which crosses over quite a bit with Mario. In that franchise, there’s an elderly character known as Cranky Kong, who’s the grandfather of Donkey Kong.
Cranky Kong wasn’t always depicted as old, however. Back in 1981 — when Cranky Kong still went by the name “Donkey Kong” — he starred in the classic Donkey Kong arcade game as a muscular, virile ape. Cranky Kong’s rival in that game was “Jumpman” who, according to Nintendo, is Mario. Many fans take issue with this, though. For one, while Cranky Kong grew old, Mario remained the same age. Also, Jumpman was a construction worker, not a plumber.
This theory is also supported by the fact that Baby Mario appears in the 2006 game Yoshi’s Island DS alongside a baby version of the current Donkey Kong (Cranky’s grandson). This means that Mario is about the same age as Donkey Kong, which means Mario couldn’t have been an adult man when he fought Cranky Kong in the 1981 arcade game. So, this theory says that Jumpman isn’t Mario, but Mario’s father.
Frankly, the evidence on this is pretty tight, especially given how well it’s supported by Nintendo’s own timeline. The only major flaw in the theory is the Donkey Kong (1981) damsel in distress, Pauline.
This theory says that Pauline is Mario’s mom, yet there are also present-day depictions of Pauline that show her as young as she was back during Donkey Kong (1981). Proponents of the Jumpman theory explain this away by saying that she’s simply a different Pauline.
Despite these last two theories being particularly favored in the Mario fandom, diligent digging still persists on the subject. Late last year, YouTuber Thomas Game Docs put forth perhaps the most impressive effort in history to discern who Mario’s father is. In his comprehensive video, he explains that since the 2014 game Yoshi’s New Island features three-dimensional versions of Mario’s parents, their entire 3D models would exist somewhere in the game’s code. But when he hacked his way into the code and located the parents among hundreds of files, this is what he found:
That’s right, the 3D models of Mario’s parents were headless, which means the mystery persists.
Or, does it? Why, exactly, can’t Mario’s dad officially have no head? I mean, he lives in a sexless, magical world of talking dinosaurs and sentient mushrooms, so is it inconceivable that his father would be canonically headless?
Your move, Nintendo.