Headrick died at home in his sleep Monday, according to his eldest son, Ken. He had been partially paralyzed after suffering two strokes last month at a disc golf tournament in Miami.
Headrick patented toy maker Wham-O's first designs for the modern Frisbee after improving the aerodynamics of the company's initial models. After joining the company in the early 1960s, Headrick incorporated concentric grooved lines into the top of the curved disc to create the first "professional model" for Emeryville-based Wham-O.
The added ridges created better lift, straighter flight and improved stability by increasing "interference with the smooth airflow pattern," according to U.S. Patent No. 3,359,678, filed by Headrick on Nov. 1, 1965, for a "Flying Saucer."
The patent was officially issued in 1967, but Wham-O began selling its version in 1964, according to the company's Web site. The patent number is stamped onto Frisbees around the world and has been rubbed by the hands of millions who toss the discs across park lawns and beaches, into the grasp of fellow players or the mouths of waiting dogs.
"I felt the Frisbee had some kind of a spirit involved," Headrick told the Santa Cruz Sentinel last October. "It's not just like playing catch with a ball. It's the beautiful flight."
Headrick founded the International Frisbee Association and Disc Golf Association to oversee the sport of disc golf.
The family will honor Headrick's wish that his ashes be molded into memorial flying discs to be given to a select few family and friends and others who make donations in his memory, Ken Headrick said.
He is survived by his wife, a daughter, three sons and 11 grandchildren.
By Ron Harris