Tuesday, April 29, 2014

R.I.P. Tony the Tiger

I was shocked and saddened to learn that Lee Marshall, who, among things, was the current voice of Tony the Tiger (Thurl Ravencroft was the original) , died over the weekend. He was only 64. Lee and I were friends for over forty years. We met while both working at the KiiS Broadcasting Workshop, a stop neither of us placed high on our resumes.

For a guy with the voice of God, Lee was the most humble, unassuming person you’ve ever met. Much of his time was devoted to charitable causes and paying it forward. Just a few months ago I spoke at the class he was teaching in voice over at Cal State Lutheran Thousand Oaks. Watching him coach those kids and bring out their best I found myself more impressed with what he said rather than how amazing he sounded saying it.

I always got the sense that Lee really enjoyed life. No one laughed more (a laugh that could shake a room), no one threw himself into every project the way Lee did, and no one appreciated his good fortune as much as Lee.

The voice over world is pretty cutthroat. When someone gets a coveted assignment it’s not unusual for his competition to quickly join in a chorus of “that son of a bitch… how did he get it?... You gotta be kidding me. Him?” And yet when Lee won the role as Tony the Tiger, all of his colleagues were genuinely happy for him. Talent-wise they knew he deserved it, and he was such a nice guy they just couldn’t hate him. I’m sure that was very frustrating.

Prior to his successful voice over work, Lee worked in radio for many years. He was part of the famous (or infamous) CKLW 20/20 news team in the late ‘60s – maybe the most over-the-top outrageous radio newscast ever. Later he worked at stations in Phoenix, San Diego, New York, and Los Angeles.

Here’s an example of Lee’s work, taken from a KRIZ, Phoenix reunion.

Later he became the voice of World Championship Wrestling, logging hundreds of thousands of miles commuting weekly to Atlanta. I’m surprised there’s not a statue of him at the Delta terminal.

But for the last twenty or so years he lived on the beach in Oxnard, California, programmed an oldies station for baby boomers in Ventura, wore Hawaiian shirts, voiced national commercials, taught college, and brightened the lives of everyone who knew him.

R.I.P. Lee. You will live in my heart and ears forever.


Greg Ehrbar said...

And of course you know that the previous voice of Tony the Tiger was for many years the ubiquitous singer/actor Thurl Ravenscroft, whose career extends at least as far back as being in the chorus for "When You Wish Upon a Star."

His other well-known credit is singing "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." He was one of The Sportsmen, the Mello Men, The Johnny Mann Singers and countless other Hollywood ensembles.

He's also one of the singing busts in The Haunted Mansion. Here is Florida, there's a newer section of the Mansion with a organ keyboard bearing his name. Kellogg's used his "G-r-r-r-reat!" well after he passed.

SkippyMom said...

This is so terribly sad. He was so young.

Thank you for a nice tribute Ken. He will obviously be very missed.

Thoughts and prayers to his family and friends.

Paul Duca said...

Thanks for showing Thurl the love, Greg...

Tom Berg said...

Lee Marshall is featured in this clip that talks about CKLW 20/20 news: I'm sorry I never had the honor of meeting him, he seemed like a nice guy. http://youtu.be/BDCdbmwy9l8

Jon Barr said...

to me you might as well have said
"imma let you finish, but Thurl Ravenscroft is the best voice over guy in the world."

really out of place.

Greg Ehrbar said...

To me,
I didn't mention his relative strength nor weakness as a talent nor a person, nor was it meant to diminish Ken's comments nor Mr. Marshall. If that was the effect, I apologize. The intent was for information as some may have been wondering which "Tony" was being discussed.

But don't put words in my mouth nor intent in my words, my friend.

To me,
that's 'way out of line and never in place, no matter what.

To me.

flurrious said...

Greg, I appreciated your comment because as I was a bit confused by Ken's post. I remembered hearing a few years back that the voice of Tony the Tiger had died, so you mentioning Ravenscroft gave me a name to Google so I could confirm that my memory wasn't playing tricks on me.

Ken, I'm sorry about your friend. Your post is a lovely tribute to him.

Todd Williams said...

I was so lucky to first work with Lee at KCBQ in San Diego in 1976. I was 18 went we first met. Lee always treated me as an equal. His consul and advice over the years meant so much to me right up till the end; we never lost track of each other and shared so many great laughs.
The big thrill for both of us is was when we learned about a year ago that our youngest daughter Monica would be taking his class at Cal Lutheran this semester (kind of felt we'd come full circle). Lee and Monica keep in touch leading up to when this semester was to begin. I'm so grateful to Lee for all the great things Lee said to me about having Monica in his class. Very sadly for our family Lee was unable to finish out the semester. My thoughts are with Lee's family.
I will treasure the last text message from Lee.
Lee...Thank you for everything. RIP my friend.

The Big Alabama said...

I'm sorry to hear of Lee Marshall's death, but thank you for saying "shocked" only once when expressing your sadness. Ever since Casablanca became a part of popular culture, I don't think I've ever seen anyone shocked without being "shocked -- shocked" at anything.

Victor Velasco said...

Sorry to hear this; I never met him but knew of him, a great voice and talent...

William F. Earl said...

I knew Lee. I even had his bedside phone #. He was very kind to my wife and I. Funny, the only pet peeve he had was that he didn't like me discussing my health issues on Facebook..maybe because he was privately more ill than i was (stroke survivor)... my wife brought a Tony the Tiger bobblehead to a party that Lee was at for him to sign. He did so graciously, even though he had to stop smoking his big cigar. I hope Tom Kelly becomes the next voice for Tony as a tribute to Lee who he knew. (Just like I hope Ken is chosen to sit in Vin Sculy's chair when Vin retires.)

Todd Everett said...

That oldies station in Ventura -- KVEN, "The Boomer" -- was fantastic. Stuff even I, a real buff, had never heard; certainly not on oldies radio. It went under a while back, sadly, and is now all-sports. Bu it was grand while it lasted.

John said...

Marsahll was kind of the Harry Calas to Ravenscroft's John Facenda when it came to being the ubiquitous voice of a product (Sugar Frosted Flakes in the case of Thrul and Lee, NFL highlights in the case of Calas and Facenda).

(Ravenscroft also served as pilot for Winston Churchill on one trip while Thurl was in the Army Air Corps during World War II. When I hard that story, I couldn't help but picture Winston doing one of his radio broadcasts to the British people during the war and throwing in a "Theyrrrrre Grrreat!" into the mix.)

nomesain said...

Lee was a very good friend. I was stunned to hear the news of his passing on Saturday and am still in a fog over it. He and I worked at KRIZ in Phoenix when we both were kids. Aside from a booming baritone voice, Lee was a witty, wonderful fellow. He is missed already and a void will exist for years and years for many of us. He was the original article.

Cynapse said...

Ken, you wrote a wonderful article about Lee. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about losing this great talent and kind man. He spoke of you often to me...he respected you and enjoyed your sense of humor. Lee shocked and honored me when he asked that I share his studio and microphone on his hit creation, "The Boomer". What a joy and memorable way to end my broadcasting career, sitting next to the man, the legend: Lee Marshall. A very sad and personal loss for my family and me. xocyndyo