Friday, February 13, 2015
R.I.P. Gary Owens
You’re all familiar with him, whether you know it or not. Gary was the cupped-hand announcer on LAUGH IN, the voice of Roger Ramjet, and the voice of thousands of commercials and cartoons. His rich deep voice was distinctive and golden.
But that was just the tip of the iceberg. Gary Owens was also one of the most creative individuals I’ve ever met – wickedly funny, irreverent, absurd, and with impeccable comic timing. He elevated silliness to an art. The voice was just the instrument. He made the music.
I first met Gary in 1969. At the time he was doing afternoon drive on Los Angeles powerhouse radio station, KMPC, starring in the number one show in the country, and doing countless voice overs. I was a lowly sports intern making minimum wage. He took me under his wing. I wrote comedy bits for him and was blown away that he used some of them on the air. The great Gary Owens thought they were good enough. He even, on occasion, let me go on the radio and perform the bits with him.
Without my knowledge, he submitted my material to the producer of LAUGH IN and I was offered a job. (I couldn’t take it because it was full-time, I would lose my student deferment and wind up in Viet Nam, but still, what a mensch.)
In Gary’s autobiography he mentions that he discovered me, and that’s absolutely true. Here he was, an entertainment titan at the top of his game and powers, still making time to mentor a lowly intern. And I wasn’t the only one. Although he won’t admit it, Gary did the same a few years earlier for a kid named Albert Brooks.
Another kid, in Indiana, also was inspired by Gary Owens, and Gary would give of his time to critique the lad's tapes and encourage him. I hope that “kid”, David Letterman, makes some mention of Gary tonight on his show.
But that was Gary -- forever kind, forever helpful and supportive, inspiring by his example. My guess is he gave hundred of people their start in broadcasting -- maybe more.
If ever it appeared someone led a truly charmed life it was Gary Owens. But in fact, he did not. Gary suffered from diabetes throughout his life. He once said to me that there was never a day where he “felt good.” Imagine what a nightmare that must’ve been. And yet, he handled it with his typical grace and good humor.
Gary Owens is maybe the only person I know in show business who EVERYBODY liked. He had no enemies. None. Personally and professionally, he was universally loved and respected. The magic voice was a gift; the rest was a conscious choice.
I’m proud to say I was his friend for almost fifty years. Getting together with G.O. was always a treat. No one was a funnier dining companion. He taught me a lot about comedy and more about humility. Gary Owens was a special person. His voice will live on in cartoons, his memory will live on in the hearts of all who knew him.
Thank you, Gary, from the bottom of my heart.