Casper the Friendly Ghost is the protagonist of the Famous Studios theatrical animated cartoon series of the same name. As his name indicates, he is a ghost, but is quite personable. According to the 1995 feature film Casper, his family name is McFadden, making his "full" name Casper McFadden.
Given that Casper is depicted as a ghostly little boy, there is a controversy among fans of the series about whether or not he is a dead child. Early Casper cartoons seemed to suggest this, as they portrayed him "living" beside a gravestone. Specifically, the short There's Good Boos To-Night featured Ferdie, a fox befriended by Casper, coming back from the dead as a ghost. Casper's death (as well as the reason why he became friendly) has become disputed since then.
The origin of the legend was Casper von Schroeppel who drowned at age twelve in Morristown, New York, and who haunts the Schroeppel mansion (now a national monument) in Syracuse.
This somewhat macabre premise was later abandoned in favor of the idea that ghosts were merely a type of creature, similar to ghouls, goblins, etc. He was thereafter portrayed with feet and shown to have ghostly parents. In the 1960s and 1970s, the stock answer provided by Harvey Comics in response to those wondering how Casper died was that he was a ghost simply because his parents were already ghosts when they were married.
The 1995 feature film Casper, however, revived the notion that Casper was a deceased human and provided a brief account of his death. According to the film, Casper was sledding in the snow and stayed out for too long, dying of pneumonia. The first direct-to-video film to follow the feature, Casper: A Spirited Beginning, showed Casper's early days as a ghost, not showing how he died and ignoring the story provided in the previous film.