In this time of sorrow, I want to express my deepest, heartfelt sympathies to the family of one man who meant the world to the voice over community.
Don LaFontaine, husband, father, grandfather, and hero passed away September 1, 2008 in the afternoon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles at the age of 68.
Don LaFontaine was the kind of person who always had the right words for everything, and today, I will do my best to honor him by summoning words that will be of fitting tribute to such a kind, dedicated human being who has breathed his last, leaving behind him a legacy of love, hope, and grace.
A few short weeks ago, I received an email from Don (August 11, 2008) related to his health and how although he was struggling that he was getting better day by day, an email that was reassuring, humorous and well, simply Don.
After receiving his email, I wrote back and asked if I could interview him for VOX Daily, hoping that if possible he might type his answers and send them back to me electronically, however when he replied on August 18th a little while later, he suggested that although his voice wasn’t as strong as before, “shaky from time to time” as he put it, that he would be happy to speak with me and to arrange it with his agent, Vanessa Gilbert.
This was an honor I dreamt not of. To even think about speaking to Don LaFontaine, that he would make time in his schedule from his sick bed to speak with me, was a gift.
I contacted Vanessa and we decided to play the interview by ear around Don’s health and his schedule (he had still been recording for some clients since his illness), but little did we know, or anyone else for that matter, that we’d be losing him so soon.
Don was admitted to the hospital less than a week after he granted my interview request. Although I didn’t get to hear his voice or receive answers to the questions, I know that he read them and was eager to share his answers with me, and with you.
Last year I had the opportunity to meet Don. It was a thrilling moment during a momentous occasion. He had a twinkle in his eye and I think for the first time got to be in a room full of hundreds of people, fellow practitioners of his art, who loved and revered him more than words could say.
It was then that pen pals became friends and the measure of the man so beautifully displayed, in his convictions, humility and strength that came from a life well lived, a life of love, passion and devotion.
A Celebration Of Life
Don’s life began in Duluth, Minnesota, born on August 26th, 1940. Once he graduated from high school, he joined the army and was stationed at Fort Meyer, Virginia working as a recording engineer for the United States Army Band and Chorus.
After his discharge from the army, Don entered the world of advertising, working at an agency that produced theatrical trailers (one of the only ones outside of Hollywood studios) where he was employed as a copy writer, coining such immortal phrases as “In a world”, and “A one-man army”, “No where to run, no where to hide and no way out” and many more.
In 1965, a voice talent who was supposed to record failed to show up for his session and it fell upon Don who had a nice voice to take his place, the first of thousands of movie trailers that he would record over his lifetime.
The phrases that he wrote in his agency days changed his calling from the writer who told you about the movies to become the voice who made you want to go to the movies.
He spent a number of years as a head of production for Kaleidoscope Films, Ltd; one of the premiere trailer production houses. In 1976, he started his own production company, Don LaFontaine Associates. His first assignment as an independent was “The Godfather, Part II.”
In 1978 he was asked to join Paramount Pictures, heading up the trailer department. Over the next three years, he became literally the “Voice” of Paramount. In 1980 he was named Vice President, but he missed being involved in active production.
For 30 years, Don had been a fixture of modern-day entertainment, advertising, and has also been the voice of NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox and UPN, in addition to TNT, TBS and the Cartoon Network recording hundreds of thousands of television and radio spots, including commercials for Chevrolet, Pontiac, Ford, Budweiser, McDonalds, Coke, and many other corporate sponsors.
At last count, he has worked on nearly 5000 films, including appearances as the in-show announcer for the Screen Actors Guild and Academy Awards. Based on contracts signed, he held the distinction of being perhaps the single busiest actor in the history of SAG.
Following The Leader
Achievements were no stranger to Don, but as he would discover, through those accolades he would be recognized as “the king of voice-overs”, and to his deep awe and gratitude, beloved by voice talent of every race, color and creed.
His ability to unite people and speak words that moved them was unprecedented. His voice was so familiar yet so majestic, he had you in the palm of his hand, although he was seldom aware of it.
Over the last month, Don has given of himself, as he freely gave of himself, and his support has meant more to those beneficiaries than he could ever know. Don LaFontaine’s name stands proudly behind a slate of actors called Unite For Strength who want to bring unity to SAG and AFTRA through merger, a cause dear to his heart and to all hearts in this industry. Where these things that meant so much to him are concerned encourage us to let his strength be our strength, and his hope our hope.
May The Lord Bless You And Keep You
If you knew Don, you know that his generosity and exceptional ability to communicate was second only to the size of his heart.
I would like to invite you now to share your thoughts, to grieve or to say a prayer for Don, his wife Nita Whitaker, and his daughters, Christine, Skye, and Elyse that they may be comforted in this time of heartache, a sorrow with depths that only God knows.
In unity and prayer,