Just as pop-culture fans were scraping themselves back together after the one-two-three punch of David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and Abe Vigoda all passing in relatively quick succession, another talent has been taken from this mortal plane. Joe Alaskey may not have the name recognition of the three aforementioned men, but I’d wager that his performances have delighted just as many, though the vast majority of viewers would never know it. Alaskey made a living contorting his voice into kooky tones as a regular vocal actor for animated programs, spreading laughter and joy to young TV enthusiasts without ever truly reaping the fame that should’ve come with it. Alaskey died yesterday in his Los Angeles home following a protracted struggle with cancer. He was 63 years old.
Mel Blanc originated the voices of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and plenty of other members of Warner Bros. anarchic Looney Tunes gang, but after his death in 1989, Alaskey took over many of the iconic characters, seamlessly matching his tone to Blanc’s original. Ever the skilled fill-in, he also took over for David Doyle as the voice of Grandpa Lou Pickles on Rugrats after Doyle’s 1997 death, keeping the character alive when its actor could not. On one occasion, Alaskey’s gift for vocal mimicry would bring him in front of an actual camera — the chameleonic actor captured the throaty growl of Richard Nixon during a brief appearance in Forrest Gump.
The lot of a voice actor, even one as successful as Alaskey, is a strange one. You’re both famous and not, everywhere and nowhere, known but as someone else. It’s a job of quiet dignity that someone’s got to do, and few people did it better than Alaskey. He leaves behind a legacy even more meaningful than his deep body of work — generations of kids trying to figure out how to sputter “You’re despicable!” with just the right lisp.