While voice acting should never be described as “easy,” it’s a lot more flexible compared to shooting on film. Studio time is less restricted, there’s no need to align your schedule with thousands of other actors and technicians, and it can sometimes be done in the comfort of your own home. That’s what makes the job ideal for those with mobility problems. Actors who no longer have the stamina to appear on camera for hundreds of takes can record comfortably in a studio with a relatively small crew.
In addition to this convenience, voice recordings can be made far earlier into production, which means that some studios have original recordings of dead men and women on their hard drives just waiting to be incorporated into full animation (aka the expensive part of the process). Therefore if some actor unexpectedly kicks the bucket, there’s a good possibility that he or she has a voice role gathering digital dust somewhere, which will inevitably be released posthumously.
In light of these two common scenarios, and in honor all the entertainers we have lost recently over the past year, here are ten of the finest performers whose final roles were voicing animated characters…
Final Role: Dr. Spelts, Archer (2012)
You may recognize Napier from the picture above as the villainous leader of The Good Ole Boys country band in the original Blues Brothers. His most iconic role, though, was as the mincing, selfish military bureaucrat Murdock in Rambo II. Napier set the bar quite high for jerkass villains with this performance, which remains one of my favorite “love to hate ‘em” characters of all time. Napier made a career of playing unyielding hardasses, and was one of the last of the original tough guys from exploitation films in the 60s like Supervixens. He also portrayed the Ted Turner-esque media mogul Duke Phillips in the animated show The Critic.
Final Role: Laverne, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
A Hollywood veteran, Wickes worked with the likes of Henry Fonda and Orson Welles in the Golden Age of motion pictures of the 30s and 40s. She later became friends with Lucille Ball and regularly appeared as guest characters on I Love Lucy, and later on other sitcoms like M*A*S*H, The Love Boat, and Murder, She Wrote. Wickes is most recognizable to 90s-loving audiences as the sarcastic old nun Sister Mary Lazarus in Sister Act and Sister Act 2. She died while recording her role in Hunchback and had some of her dialogue finished by Jane Withers.
Final Role: Mermaid Man, Spongebob Squarepants (2012)
Borgnine may no longer be a household name, but as an extremely prolific actor with over 200 screen credits to his name he’s no lightweight. While your grandparents may remember him from shows like McHale’s Navy and films like The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Bunch, Borgnine can also be seen by fans of the John Carpenter cult classic Escape From New York as the wise-cracking cab driver. Fun fact: doing 100 taxi missions in Grand Theft Auto III unlocks a special taxi vehicle called the “Borgnine” in honor of said role.
Borgnine’s work later in life garnered him an Emmy nomination at the age of 92 for a guest appearance on the final episode of ER. He also became familiar to legions of children and child-at-heart fans of the Nickelodeon TV show Spongebob Squarepants as the senile has-been superhero Mermaid Man. He was extremely grateful for his opportunity to entertain a younger generation through Spongebob, a phenomenon he regarded fondly.
Death: About a week ago
Final Role: Dr. Egon Spengler, Ghostbusters: The Video Game (2009)
Poor, poor Harold Ramis. While his death certainly isn’t the most tragic that will appear on this list, it is definitely unfortunate for a man to die before he reaches his 70s in this age of modern medicine. Ramis generally preferred being behind the camera after major roles in Stripes and Ghostbusters, but he became a favorite pick for nerdy cameo roles in films like Orange County, Airheads, and Knocked Up. Ramis’s deadpan brand of ironic humor created a new category in the 80s, and made Egon synonymous with someone who doesn’t know that they’re funny. Reprising this role in the 2009 Ghostbusters game was a fine way to polish off his career before illness precluded him from working.
Final Role: Tony, Alpha and Omega (2010)
Like Napier, Hopper is a classic villain’s villain. He killed it time and time again as a sleazy, sadistic, but somehow likable douchebag in movies like Blue Velvet, Speed, and Waterworld. Not to mention he was KING MUTHA-EFFIN KOOPA, one of the most esteemed roles in all of western cinema. Hopper’s illness was quite sudden and severe, putting an end to an energetic career filled with memorable performances. My favorite role of his to this day will always be the pornographer Steve Scott in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. His aggressive enthusiasm for the art behind booty flicks proved that Hopper could make an auteur out of any sick weirdo. God bless him.
Final Role: Doc Hudson, Cars (2006)
Paul Newman is one of the most respected and beloved actors of his generation. he pioneered a new technique of method acting for complex rogueish-but-likable characters in The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Also, besides having devilishly handsome blue eyes, Paul Newman was a humanitarian of the highest caliber and all-around political badass, protesting the Vietnam War openly despite the danger it posed to his career, and later setting up the Newman’s Own company which donates every penny of it’s profits and royalty income to charity.
Final Role: Pelops, Light of Olympia (2008)
Ok, so technically Diller’s final role was on the long-running soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful (at the jaw-dropping age of 94). But I’m going to discount that because of… reasons. Also, her dubbing of the Chinese animated flop-film Light of Olympia isn’t terribly remarkable. Can we just talk about how awesome she was as Thelma, Peter’s Mom in Family Guy?
Phyllis was considered part of a “New Wave” of comedians following WWII that had never participated in vaudeville. As such, her humor had an honest edge that always bordered on inappropriate. That’s right, she was the Andrew Dice Clay of her age. Diller’s outlandish performances landed her roles on countless television shows spanning every imaginable genre. She was also beloved by women of her generation for refusing to pretend that being beautiful was not a full-time, non-paying job forced upon women by the patriarchy. Diller fought back against cultural assumptions and proved that women had just as much to make you laugh about as men and could be every bit as crude if they wanted.
Final Role: Filmore, Mater’s Tall Tales (2010)
In addition to reprising his role as Filmore for the TV adaptation of Cars, Carlin also performed as the narrator in several Thomas & Friends shorts, the final being published directly to video in 2012. As far as I’m concerned, modern comedians owe everything to George Carlin’s groundbreaking version of comic satire, and aside from Lenny Bruce, Red Fox, Richard Pyror, and the Marx Brothers he is the most important figure of modern comedy. In addition to his grammy-winning standup routines, Carlin found the time to appear in films like Dogma and Scary Movie 3. Also, like Paul Newman and John Ratzenberger, his death spelled what many had hoped would be the end of plans for a Cars sequel. Those people were later sorely disappointed.
Final Role: Captain Blasto, Blasto (1998); Troy McLure, The Simpsons (1998)
I usually don’t take someone I never met’s murder personally, but I’ll make an exception on behalf of Phil Hartman. Shot by his jealous and erratic wife while he slept, Hartman’s death came as a shocking reality check to my twelve-year-old self. Our heroes can’t live forever, I realized, and sometimes people will take them away from you for no good reason and without warning.
Hartman’s performances on The Simpsons and SNL gained him millions of fans and had people like producer Lorne Michaels proclaiming him a comic genius and “the glue” that held the rest of the cast together. His character on Newsradio remains one of my favorite comic performances of all time. Michaels once perceptively said of Hartman that “he could make any line funny” just by his delivery. No further proof of this statement is needed than viewing his SNL bit “The Anal-Retentive Carpenter.”
Final Role: Unicron, The Transformers: The Movie (1986)
Orson Welles had a tumultuous career to say the least. Going from an acclaimed director of what scholars call “the greatest film of all time” to an alcoholic blimp who can’t even record a commercial for wine without being too unironically drunk on the set must have been a jarring experience for his family and associates.
Despite the punching bag that was Welles’ late career (as inspiring to animated characters as it may have been), he had one glimmer at the end of his career, and that was playing a giant sphincter that engulfed entire planets. The Transformers movie took a darker turn than the TV series in an effort to kill off the toys kids bought last year and introduce a whole new cast of talking merchandise. Welles’ role in the film gave his presence no small amount of gravity, and matched his booming voice with an imposing but largely formless figure. Unless you count a butthole as a form. Just sayin…