Iconic announcer and voice actor Gary Owens died February 12 at home due to complications from type 1 diabetes, which he’d had since childhood.
Owens was best known as the hand-on-the-ear announcer on 1960s comedy show Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.
He did over 30,000 commercials in his career. As Mark Evanier explained to readers of News From Me —
He was so good at this that he became an archetype. In the v.o. industry, it is not uncommon to hear bookers say they’re looking for a “Gary Owens” type voice, especially in the last few years when poor health sometimes made it difficult to hire Gary Owens. I have even heard directors tell an actor to “give it a little Gary Owens.” That meant that while you should sound very announcer-like and macho and intense, there should also be a big smile and friendliness in your delivery. He did that better than anybody.
He was the voice of Roger Ramjet (1965) and the narrator of the Space Ghost (1966) cartoon series.
A highly-rated LA disc jockey, Owens enriched the local dialect by coining the phrase “Beautiful downtown Burbank,” used on Laugh-In and The Tonight Show. He popularized silly, invented words like “insegrevious”, “krenellemuffin”, and the previously non-existent colors “veister” and “krelb.”
Owens often appeared in front of the camera, too. Movie appearances included Midnight Cowboy, The Love Bug, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman, and Return From Witch Mountain.
His miscellaneous genre TV work usually involved playing some kind of TV or radio announcer on shows such as The Munsters, Mr. Terrific, The Green Hornet, the Adam West Batman, several incarnations of Scooby-Doo, Yogi’s Space Race, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, Sesame Street, Ren & Stimpy, Garfield & Friends, and Buzz Lightyear of Star Command.
Owens’ interest in the genre was both professional and personal. Several times he attended Larry Niven’s New Year’s Eve Party; Owens, Niven and Jerry Pournelle were acquainted through their volunteer work at Big Brothers.
Owens received a Hollywood Walk of Fame Star in 1980, situated between those of Walt Disney and Betty White.