Friday, February 20, 2015

Gary Owens R.I.P.

Gary Owens, the disc jockey who provided the voices of such carton characters as Roger Ramjet and Space Ghost, as well as served as the announcer on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, died on February 12 at the age of 80. The cause was complications due to type 1 diabetes.

Gary Owens was born Gary Altman on May 10 1934 in Mitchell, South Dakota. He was only 16 years old when he got his first job in radio, working  at KORN in Mitchell. Two years later he was promoted to the station's news director. He attended Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell. In the late Fifties he worked a number of stations in the Mid-West and South. In 1956 he moved from KORN to KMA in Shenandoah, Iowa. Afterwards he got a job as a disc jockey at KOIL in Omaha, Nebraska. It was there that the station's owner gave him the surname "Owens". He worked in Dallas, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Denver before moving to California in 1959. He worked at  KROY in Sacramento and KEWB in Oakland. It was in 1954 that Gary Owens did his first voice work in animation, narrating the Disney animated short "Pigs is Pigs". During the Fifties he also served as one of the announcers on the children's show Ding Dong School.

It was in 1961 that Mr. Owens got a job at  KFWB in Los Angeles. In 1962 he moved to KMPC in Los Angeles, where he would remain for the next two decades. It was during the Sixties that Gary Owens voiced what might be his two most famous animated characters. In 1965 he provided the voice of the title character in the syndicated cartoon Roger Ramjet. In 1966 he provided the voice of Space Ghost in the Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon Space Ghost & Dino Boy. He also served as the narrator on the Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. It was in 1968 that he began his stint as the announcer on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. He coined a number of the catchprases on the show, including "beautiful downtown Burbank". He was one of the few members of the cast to remain with Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In for the entire run of the show. He also either appeared in or did voice work for such television shows as McHale's Navy, The Munsters, Mr. Terrific, The Green Hornet, and Batman. He worked as an announcer on Sesame Street for seventeen years starting in 1969.

In the Seventies Gary Owens provided the voice of The Blue Falcon on The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour, as well as voices in various other Hanna-Barbera cartoons. He appeared on such live-action television shows as Barnaby Jones, Get Christie Love, and Man from Atlantis. He did voice work for such feature films as The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975), Return from Witch Mountain (1978), and Coming Attractions (1978). In 1972 he released the comedy album Put Your Head On My Finger. In 1973 he wrote the humour book The (What to Do While You're Holding the) Phone Book.

In the Eighties Gary Owens moved from KMPC to KPRZ  in Los Angeles. He also served as an announcer for KKGO-FM in Los Angeles, and co-hosted a morning commute show with Al Lohman on KFI. For a time he was the host of the syndicated oldies radio show Soundtrack Of The Sixties and the oldies show  Gary Owens Super Track. He continued to provided assorted voices for Hanna-Barbera cartoons. He served as the narrator on the TV show Sledge Hammer and guest starred on Simon & Simon and Night Court. He was one of the performers on No Soap Radio. He was the voice of various announcers and newscasters in the feature films Hysterical (1983), European Vacation (1985), Destroyer (1988), and How I Got Into College (1989). He played a minister in Diggin' Up Business (1990).

From the Nineties to the Naughts Gary Owens was one of the voices on the cartoons Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad, Swat Kats: The Radical Squadron, Ren & Stimpy, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Eek! the Cat, and Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. He also provided guest voices on numerous other cartoons. He appeared or did voice work for the feature films Spy Hard (1996), Border to Border (1998), Muppets from Space (1999), Major Damage (2001), and Frank McKlusky, C.I. (2002). He did voice work on promos for Antenna TV. His last voice work for a character was fittingly enough Space Ghost in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. His last work as a narrator was for the feature The Adventures of Kaitlyn Kitty Kat Kay (2015). In 2004 he published the book  How to Make a Million Dollars with Your Voice (Or Lose Your Tonsils Trying).

 There can be no doubt that Gary Owens was blessed with an amazing voice. It was well suited to that of a disc jockey, which explains why he was so successful throughout his career. His voice was also highly adaptable. He could voice such bigger than life heroes as Roger Ramjet and Space Ghost, but at the same time he could be a newscaster, announcer, or disc jockey. There was little wonder he was very much in demand as an announcer or narrator for various animated cartoons, TV shows, and feature films. Few men had a voice as great as that of Gary Owens.

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