http://www.freep.com/article/20081118/FEATURES01/811180353?imw=Y He turns 80 this year, but you'd never know it by looking at him. Mickey Mouse is still as sprightly as ever, with not even a laugh line to show his age. Mickey's come a long way since his turn as a deckhand in "Steamboat Willie" on this day in 1928. Back then, the Disney studio's hopes were pegged to the mischievous rodent. They hoped he would bring the company success after the rights to Walt Disney's first successful character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, were sold to another studio by its distributors. Walt sketched a mouse -- who looked an awful lot like his predecessor, Oswald -- and his wife, Lilly, christened the mouse Mickey. (Without Lilly's quick thinking, we'd be celebrating the 80th birthday of Mortimer Mouse.) Mickey was a hit, and soon he had a band of buddies with whom he got into all kinds of scrapes and messes. (He never officially married Minnie Mouse, but they're still the world's most famous animated couple.) According to Disney, more than 1 million children joined the original Mickey Mouse Club between 1929 and 1932. And his fans ranged from American children to famous names like Mary Pickford, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Benito Mussolini, the Nizam of Hyderabad and King George V of England. As animation techniques grew more sophisticated, Mickey's appearance changed a bit -- he gained some weight around the middle, donned a pair of white gloves and grew more angular. But his personality never changed from the friendly mouse that Walt Disney created in the 1920s. Today, Mickey has become the international symbol of the Disney empire -- the three-circle silhouette of his head is one of the most recognized corporate symbols in the world. And his image -- with the famous two-button pants, the big yellow shoes -- has graced every kind of merchandise imaginable, from T-shirts to telephones. Clearly the world's most beloved animated character, Mickey continues toward the century mark just as he began his life 80 years ago -- full steam ahead.