Generations of animation fans worldwide mourned in 1989 when Mel Blanc — the iconic voice actor who gave life to many of the iconic Looney Tunes and also fixtures like Barney Rubble, Mr. Spacely, and Woody Woodpecker — passed away at 81. But while it was known that they could never sound the same again, such beloved characters would inevitably continue, and a new generation of voice talent stepped in to fill those considerable shoes.
Now, one of the men who inherited several of Blanc’s roles has himself fallen silent. Joe Alaskey, who also voiced Grandpa Lou Pickles on Nickelodeon’s Rugrats, passed away today at 63.
Alaskey, whose family said he had been battling cancer, was a gifted and sought-after vocal impressionist who was noted for his uncanny impersonation of Jackie Gleason. He was frequently hired to re-dub dialogue for old, partially-damaged recordings of the famous comedian, and even appeared onscreen in the role when it was found that the two bore an uncanny resemblance. But voice-over proved to be his most prominent calling, giving voices to some of the most famous animated characters of his time.
Alaskey took over the role of Grandpa Pickles on Rugrats in 1997 after the death of original voice actor David Doyle. He would inhabit the role for nearly a decade, across a spin-off series (Rugrats: All Grown Up) and multiple feature films. His association with Nickelodeon animated characters would continue into the world of tie-in video games, where he provided the vocals for Mermaid Man in a series of Spongebob Squarepants titles.
But it was with the Looney Tunes that Alaskey would find his most prolific employment. The actor began by voicing Yosemite Sam for a cameo in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (the voice had become too taxing for Mel Blanc, who would pass not long after completing work on the film), and soon he was voicing Wile E. Coyote and The Tazmanian Devil on TV’s Tiny Toon Adventures (where he would also originate the role of new character Plucky Duck). This led to roles on The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries and the feature-film spinoff Tweety’s High-Flying Adventure, where he expanded his Looney roster to include Tweety, Sylvester, Bugs, Daffy, Pepe Le Pew, Marvin the Martian, and Colonel Rimfire. He would return to the voice of Daffy for Duck Dodgers, a sci-fi comedy series based on one of the most popular early Daffy Duck cartoons for which Alaskey won an Emmy in 2004.
Veteran television, comedy, cartoon and comics writer Mark Evanier, who had been a friend and colleague of Alaskey’s, offered remembrances on his personal blog, praising his famous work ethic:
“I once watched Joe for a while as he recorded lines as Bugs, Daffy, Sylvester and Yosemite Sam for a G.P.S. It tooks days and thousands of lines for each…and after he finished as Sam, he couldn’t speak for almost a week.”
“The [voice] I liked best was when he sounded like Joe Alaskey. He had a long, long list of voices but that’s the one I will miss the most.”
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