Thursday, February 4, 2016

Joe Alaskey: 1952-2016

I found out on social media today that voice actor, Joe Alaskey, has died at the age of 63 from cancer. Children of the 1980s (including myself) may recall Alaskey from a couple of programs that aired in syndication.

First off he appeared as the on-camera announcer/next-door neighbor on a syndicated television trivia game show titled Couch Potatoes. In a clever use of the on-camera announcer role Alaskey appeared in a living room set positioned next to the main set. Marc Summers, later of Double Dare fame on Nickelodeon, hosted Couch Potatoes. This series debuted on January 23, 1989 and aired it's final first-run episode on June 19, 1989. A daily series it amassed 100 episodes and it remained in local syndication (in reruns) until September 1989...after which it jumped to cable's USA Network and reruns aired during that channel's game show block of programming from September 11, 1989 to March 23, 1990. Alaskey departed the series near the end of the syndicated run and in his place came actor/game show emcee, Jim McKrell. Even though McKrell had a highly visible career on television and in movies he wasn't an on-camera announcer for Couch Potatoes as Joe Alaskey happened to be.

A sitcom titled Out of this World aired in syndication for four seasons (1987-1991) and a total of 96 episodes. Joe Alaskey appeared in the series as Beano Froelich starting with it's 1987 debut until the middle of Season Four in 1990 (appearing in more than 80 of the series 96 episodes). According to on-line sites Alaskey's final episode is "Marlowe Vice" (Season 4, episode 12).

It is during this time period (fall 1990) that Alaskey became more involved in voice acting for cartoons. Tiny Toon Adventures, debuting in September 1990, provided Alaskey the opportunity to originate the voice of Plucky Duck. The character is based on iconic Looney Tunes character, Daffy Duck, which Alaskey also eventually voiced following the 1989 death of Mel Blanc.

The decade of the 1990s had Alaskey providing a staggering amount of voices for all kinds of animated projects. Given my preference for a lot of classic cartoons I tended to gravitate more toward his contributions to the Looney Tunes legacy. Alaskey, more than any other, could replicate the iconic vocalizations of Mel Blanc. That is the reason I applaud the Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries series so much. Alaskey voiced both Sylvester and Tweety plus other roles. The other main cast of vocal performers included June Foray as Granny and Frank Welker as Hector. Given Joe, June, and Frank's vocal abilities they often voiced a large number of other characters, too, in addition to their main roles. Those familiar with the Nickelodeon series, Rugrats, Alaskey became the second voice of the grandfather character (Lou Pickles) starting in 1997 and lasting into the next decade.

Chuck Jones fans may recall a video series titled Timberwolf. Well, Joe Alaskey provided the voice of Thomas Timberwolf in the thirteen episode 2001 series (the last project released during Chuck's lifetime). Alaskey's next big series arrived in 2003...the entertaining Duck Dodgers...featuring contemporary exploits and adventures of the fictional Duck Dodgers (Daffy Duck), Eager Young Space Cadet (Porky Pig), and Martian Commander (Marvin the Martian). All these characters are based on a classic Merrie Melodies short titled Duck Dodgers and The 24th and a Half Century. The short, directed by Chuck Jones and released on July 25th 1953, had by 2003 become one of the signature, iconic cartoons in Warner Brothers history.

The television series more or less is an extension of the 1953 short including the debut of a new character, Martian Queen. Tom Jones performed the theme song. In 2004 Alaskey won a Daytime Emmy award for his vocal performance as Duck Dodgers.

In the latter half of the decade Alaskey kept busy providing voices on various video games and on a revival of the Rugrats franchise. During the last 5 years or so he participated in a series of Tom and Jerry direct-to-video projects (issued on DVD or Blu-Ray) but oddly enough he wasn't cast in the most recent revival of the Looney Tunes...more specifically, The Looney Tunes Show. The roles of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Sylvester and Tweety all went to Jeff Bergman even though the other voice actors and voice actresses returned to their primary Looney Tunes roles: Bob Bergen as Porky Pig, June Foray as Granny, Jim Cummings as the Tasmanian Devil, Billy West as Elmer Fudd, and Maurice LaMarche as Yosemite Sam. That particular series ran a couple of seasons (2011-2014). I'm sure if I looked through Google archives I could find articles surrounding Alaskey's non-participation but I'm not going to...probably not for awhile. His most recent work centered around the series, Murder Comes to Town. Airing on niche station Investigation Discovery Channel since January of 2014, Joe Alaskey was the narrator of the series...causing a lot of viewers to praise the similarity in narration to that of the late Paul Winfield (narrator of a similar series, City Confidential).

Joe Alaskey: April 17, 1952 - February 3, 2016.

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