I tend to talk up voice actors here in the Houston Press blogs. Part of it is because I'm trying to justify entering my fourth decade on Earth and still being mesmerized by cartoons, but a lot of it is because I think that the discipline represents one of the most underrated acting skills of all time. Just because he was in a feature film, people still consider George Clooney a better Batman than Kevin Conroy, even though I can produce a chart proving that is not possible.
Of all the behind-the-mike talent that I write fan letters to, none is bigger or better in my opinion than the sorely missed Tony Jay, who passed away on this day in 2006 from complications related to lung surgery. He was 73, but still incredibly active and much sought after for his deep, menacing voice. I still tear up a little when I happen to be home with the Kid With One F and we're watching Jay's Spiderus use his sinister timbre to try and deal with fatherhood in Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Friends.
So here's to you, Tony. This week's playlist is dedicated to your work and the impact you had on the art of voice acting. It's a sadder world without you.
Tony Jay, "Dancing in the Dark": Tony was a talker, not a singer, and as far as I can tell he recorded only one real song in his life. However, he was a passionate Broadway fan, and liked to make spoken-word versions of standards. He released an album of these in 2005 called Speaking of Broadway. My favorite is this rendition of "Dancing In the Dark" from Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz's The Band Wagon.
Mortiis, "Parasite God": I first heard Jay's work in the epically Shakespearean vampire video-game series Legacy of Kain. Jay played many characters over the course of the series, including the necromancer Mortanius and the spider-like boss Zephon, but his best work happened as the parasitic Elder God.
The soul-consuming, Lovecraftian deity turned his back on the vampire race after they were cursed with immortality, sterility, and bloodthirst by a vanquished race of demons. From then on, he waged a war of deceit in order to extinguish the vampires, leading to crusades, genocides, and the decay of the world itself. YouTube user Leapetra put together this tribute to the fight against the Elder God set to Mortiis's best tune.
Macabre, "Dr. Holmes (He Stripped Their Bones)": With a voice that distinctive it's no wonder that Jay managed to land a lot of narration work, everything from the History Channel to Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. But he had a special place for serial killers, having narrated documentaries on the likes of Albert Fish and a 2004 film called H. H. Holmes: America's First Serial Killer.
Holmes used the distraction and surge of population surrounding the 1893 Chicago World's Fair to build himself a murder hotel. All told, he confessed to the killing of 27 people, but may have a body count as high as 200. Metal band Macabre pays tribute to the psychopath in this track from Gloom. True to title, Holmes would strip flesh from his victims and sell their skeletons to medical schools.
Jungle Book, "The Mighty Hunters": One of Jay's best known characters was as the tiger Shere Khan from the Jungle Book. He took over the role from George Sanders who committed suicide in 1971.
Jay played Khan in the sequel, in many cameo appearances, and in my favorite, the spin-off cartoon TaleSpin. That was the place that he really shone, as in that universe Khan was a Randian businessman who was sometimes an antagonist, but maintained a respectful and even friendly relationship with Baloo despite trying to out-compete him.
Shere Khan had a song in the original Jungle Book script, but like most of Terry Gilkyson's work it was replaced after being deemed too dark and frightening. This is an original demo of the tune.
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Tony Jay, "Hellfire": As far as I know, this is Jay's only song, but man what a song it is! Jay was on a roll playing Disney villains at this point, having both the Shere Khan gig and a small role as the asylum owner in Beauty and the Beast, but in 1996's Hunchback of Notre Dame he got star billing as Judge Claude Frollo.
"Hellfire" is one of the greatest Disney villain songs ever, and it damn near got the film bumped up to PG with its subjects of hell, damnation, and most of all the powerful lust felt by Frollo for the gypsy Esmeralda. It's a terrifying, dark sequence that rivals "Night on Bald Mountain" in its Satanic genius. I hope it stands as a final proof of the premise of this article... that Tony Jay, may he rest in peace, was metal as fuck.