American voice over artist and actor Gary Owens passed away yesterday at his home in Encino California in the San Fernando Valley from complications due to type 1 diabetes, a condition he had experienced since childhood. He is survived by Arleta, his wife of 47 years. Owens provided the voices for dozens of animated characters- primarily for Hanna-Barbera– as well as being the on-air image of the professional announcer for many live-action shows, with the ubiquitous hand over his ear while voicing.
Owens began his career as a disc jockey in the mid west of the United States. In the early sixties Owens moved to California, where he got his big break at KMPC in 1962 where he was known for his surrealistic humor.
By the mid-sixties his voice was well known in the Los Angeles radio market, where he collaborated with such well-known artists as June Foray, Paul Frees, Daws Butler and other prominent voice artists. It was only a matter of time until he jumped across and began voicing cartoon characters.
His first prominent role was as Roger Ramjet for Snyder-Koren Productions. This was quickly followed by Space Ghost. Owens would play Space Ghost in it’s later incarnation Space Stars and appeared as himself in the parody/sequel Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Space Ghost was soon followed by his other big Hanna-Barbera hit The Perils of Penelope Pitstop.
It was during this period that Owens made his biggest splash on the counter-culture tv show Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In as the hand cupped to one ear man in the announcer booth. Of Laugh-In’s enormous cast, Owens was one of only four—alongside Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, and Ruth Buzzi—to be with the series from beginning to end.
Owens also worked with Disney, appearing in movies such as The Love Bug and Return From Witch Mountain, and narrating shows such as Disney’s Wonderful World and Disney’s DTV Monster Hits. For 14 years, he was also the voice of EPCOT Center’s “World Of Motion” ride.
Gary Owens also worked as a writer, credited with working on Rocky and His Friends. He also published the comedic history The (What To Do While You’re Holding The Phone) Book and How To Make A Million Dollars With Your Voice (Or Lose Your Tonsils Trying), a guide to those aspired to Owens’ considerable heights in the voice over business.
Owens received a Hollywood Walk of Fame Star in 1980.