Emmy-award-winning voice actor Joe Alaskey died from cancer on February 3, a family member confirmed to CNN. He was 63 years old.
Alaskey had over 100 movie and television credits to his name, but was best known for recreating the voices of many of the beloved Warner Bros. Looney Tunes characters, which the cartoon pioneer and Mel Blanc invented, including Bug Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester the Cat, and Tweety Bird.
During his career, he alternated with Jeff Bergman in recreating Blanc’s original voices for these classic cartoon characters in TV, short film, video games, and movie reprisals of Looney Tunes for over two decades after Blanc’s death in 1989.
He also became famous for voicing Grandpa Lou Pickles from Rugrats, Foghorn Leghorn, Elmer Fudd, Pepé Le Pew, Marvin the Martian, Plucky Duck from Tiny Toon Adventures, as well as Yosemite Sam’s appearance in the groundbreaking live-action/animated film Who Framed Roger Rabbit(1988). His voice work as Daffy Duck would prove to be one of his most prominent roles, winning him an Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program for his performance in the 2004 TV series Duck Dodgers.
Alaskey passed away on Wednesday in Green Island, N.Y., after a short battle with cancer, his niece and former assistant, Trish Alaskey, told The Los Angeles Times.
“He took it so seriously, it meant so much to him — it was a heavy responsibility,” she said. “He loved the characters — he loved Mel — and it was very important to him that they came off the right way.”
Recalling her uncle’s visits to her school during her childhood where he would perform his famous voices for the children, she continued, “Oh my God — it made us stars! My friends were requesting autographs.”
Born Joseph Francis Alaskey III on April 17, 1952, in Troy, N.Y., Alaskey was self-taught and started doing impressions at the age of 5, working his way from a Boston radio morning show called Effective Radio with Bill into eventual Hollywood stardom. He graduated from the La Salle Institute in his hometown.
Alaskey was a stand-up comedian before becoming a voice actor, and appeared in several acting roles addition to his voice work with Warner Bros, playing Jackie Gleason in the TV movie King of the World and as Richard Nixon in Forrest Gump (1994). He also narrated the Investigation Discovery Network’s television documentary series Murder Comes to Town.
He was also a published author, penning an illustrated autobiography titled That’s Still Not All, Folks!! in 2009. The multi-talented Alaskey also recently published a horror novel, Frater Dementis, and a collection of short stories entitled Queasy Street: Volume One — Eleven Tales of Fantasy.
In a 2002 interview with Splitsider, Alaskey claimed that mastering Bug Bunny’s voice was one of his most challenging feats.
“Oh, Bugs Bunny was hardest voice to learn, by far. It took me two years. [What made it so tough was] Mel Blanc, he was such a good actor, and he made such an impression with his delivery. There was also the matter of the accents, the Brooklyn and the Bronx mixed together. It’s very tricky, but I eventually got it down.”
Alaskey famously gave an interview to The Yellow Mic in 2008 in which he walked the streets showing off some of his voices.
He is survived by his brother, John Ned Alaskey, as well as his nieces and nephews. Fans of Alaskey have taken to Twitter to express their condolences and appreciation for his work. Joe Alaskey’s Facebook page contains more information as well as tributes to him by family and fans.
Mark Evanier, television writer and close friend of Alaskey, wrote a tribute to him on his blog, News From Me.
“The one I liked best was when he sounded like Joe Alaskey,” Evanier concluded. “He had a long, long list of voices but that’s the one I will miss the most.”
[Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images]