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Forrest Gump meets fans at Bubba Gump’s
By Michael Williams

paul dengler
Paul Dengler (left) works as the official Bubba Gump Shrimp Company’s living mascot. Image by Michael Williams.


Karen Deeds smiled as the man wearing a white suit and carrying a small suit case strode across the dining room at Bubba Gump’s in Gatlinburg and sat down at her table.

“Hi, I’m Forrest, Forrest Gump” he said as he sat down. The man sitting with Deeds was not Academy Award winning actor Tom Hanks, who made the role famous in the movie “Forrest Gump.” The man portraying Gump at the popular eatery was Paul Dengler, who works as the official Bubba Gump Shrimp Company’s living mascot, an embodiment of the lovable character from the popular 1994 movie.

In the Oscar winning movie, the character Forrest Gump is an Alabama man with limited intelligence that accidentally influences history while traveling the world. In his travels he meets three presidents, fights in Vietnam, meets Elvis and John Lennon and plays ping pong on the world stage before founding the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company and striking it rich.

The movie inspired a chain of 39 seafood restaurants around the world including China. Dengler was hired to visit the restaurants and mingle with the guests in the character of Gump. Dengler plays the part well mirroring the mannerisms, the accent and recounting the tales that became iconic.

“I am writing a book about my life,” said Dengler as Gump. “It is entitled ‘Pray for Shrimp.’ It’s bumper sticker words of wisdom to live by. It will be 75 pages long. That number is very significant to Forrest. His I.Q. is 75. It was in 1975 that he and Lt. Dan started Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. Forrest ain’t a smart man but he knows what love is. People love the character and they like to interact with him.”

Dengler spent the evening walking from table to table signing autographs and posing for photos while telling stories about Lt. Dan, Jenny, and the company that bears his name and imparting words of wisdom, as only Forrest Gump could tell it.

“When I was in Vietnam I was shot in the buttocks,” said Dengler. “They called it a million dollar wound. The government must have kept that money cause I never saw a penny of that money.”

When not traveling the country, Dengler lives in Nashville where he works as a songwriter. His music and his bio are online at

Published December 22, 2013

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