10 Voice Actors Who Are Sorely Missed: Orson Wells, Phil Hartman & More
I'm reasonably excited about the new player vs. player game set in Nosgoth, the realm made famous in the Legacy of Kain video games. Nosgoth is one of my favorite worlds of all time, full of a dark, gothic European imagery and deep mythology that set it apart from almost anything like it.
Yet, for me there is also a sadness because Legacy of Kain had what I still consider to be the greatest video game scripts and voice acting of all time. The Shakespearean magnitude of the struggle between Kain and the role of sacrificial lamb fate had decided that he was to play was epic in the little-used true definition of the word.
None of that will be seen in Nosgoth unfortunately, and that's maybe not such a bad thing since recreating that magic is not only hard, it's physically impossible. Today we salute the voice actors that have left us, never to be heard again.
Tony Jay: Jay's deep, sinister voice made him a terrific antagonist in both the Kain games and Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame Even when he was playing the much more benign Spiderus on Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Friends he just used menace, but there was always a sense of humor in there as well. He died from complications arising from lung surgery in 2006.
Orson Wells: I know the world remembers Orson Wells as the creator of the greatest movie ever made, Citizen Kane, as well as the fact that he just walked around being Orson Wells all the time, which is certainly a feat. To me, though, Wells was the voice of my childhood. It was he that narrated and starred as Nag in Rikki Tikki Tavi and took on the combined might of the Autobots and the Decepticons as Unicron in Transformers: The Movie, films I still watch to this day. He died of a heart attack in 1985 hours after appearing on The Merv Griffin Show.
Mel Blanc: Speaking of voices from your childhood, can anyone ever really compare with Mel Blanc? His list of classic characters that came from his golden throat is longer than can honestly be believed. Bug Bunny, Sylvester, Barney Rubble, Captain Caveman, Heathcliff, about six different roles in The Phantom Tollbooth alone, Foghorrn Leghorn, Secret Squirell... these were all the same amazing man. No other figure in voice acting has his resume, and it was a terrible blow to the cartoon industry when he passed from coronary artery disease in 1989.
Mary Kay Bergman: Though nowhere near as prolific as Blanc, Bergman was one of the vocal backbones of South Park. Her knack for celebrity impersonation led her to a regular gig at Disney performing as Snow White, but once South Park got off the ground Bergman's abilities were tested to the limit by becoming virtually the entire female cast of the show. She also portrayed famous characters like Daphne Blake, and provided the yodeling for Joan Cusack in Toy Story 2. She suffered from severe bipolar disorder, and tragically committed suicide in 1999. So prolific was Bergman that Matt Stone and Trey Parker were forced to simply write episodes without any females in them because of the difficulty in replacing her.
Piece continues on next page.
Don LaFontaine: You don't get the nickname "The Voice of God" easily, and the man behind every movie trailer you've ever seen managed it by asking us to consider life "In a world" nearly every time we went to the cinema. La Fontaine was the silver-throated unseen guide in more than 5,000 commercials, which puts him closer to Mel Blanc's league than probably any other voice actor ever. During his life, he would even record home messages for anyone who contacted him until the requests became too numerous to keep up with. A pulmonary embolism felled him in 2008.
Phil Hartman: The voice cast of The Simpsons is an unparalleled team that has survived intact for 25 seasons. A record breaking number. For seven of those seasons, Phil Hartman stepped up to the mike to voice timeless characters like Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure. Both characters were retired from speaking parts out of respect for the memory of Hartman, who died from a gunshot would administered by Christine Zander in 1998.
Chris Latta: Would Cobra Commander have ever reached the iconic status that he did if Chris Latta hadn't perfected that amazing combination of totalitarian force mixed with pathetic whine? Doubtful. Latta gave us a character that combined the evil of Hitler with the incompetence of Elmer Fudd, and his portrayal of the leader of Cobra serves as a high-water mark for cartoon villainy. He was also the voice of the Decepticon Starscream, and actually originated the character of Mr. Burns on The Simpsons before being replaced by Harry Shearer. Latta's death, though officially listed as caused by a cerebral hemorrhage, remains something of a mystery in Hollywood, and colleagues such as Peter Cullen have remarked there may be more to it than we know.
Hans Conried: Two of the most deliciously smarmy villains in film history owe their legacy to the same man. Conried was both Captain Hook in Peter Pan and Snidely Whiplash in Rocky and Bullwinkle, and even took over the role of The Grinch from Boris Karloff in Halloween is Grinch Night. He was a hugely busy voice and TV actor until he died from heart disease in 1982.
John Fiedler and Paul Winchell: Two voices that brought joy to millions for their work in Winnie the Pooh died within a day of each other in 2005. Fiedler was picked by Walt Disney himself to take on the role of Piglet after Disney heard Fiedler's voice, and he held the role for almost 40 years. His colleague Winchell was the man behind the ever-bouncy Tigger, and would call sick children in-character at the hospital to cheer them up. Like everyone on this list, their voices were powerful contributions to the world of art, and their like will not be seen again soon.
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Houston.