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Date: September 03, 2008 12:14PM
The omnipresent baritone and gravely bass undertones of Don LaFontaine's
distinctive voice had the unique ability to seamlessly embellish big-screen
kisses, slice through over-the-top explosions, perfectly pair with robust
musical scores, glide alongside car chases and effortlessly co-star with any
A-list talent in Hollywood.
"He was the originator of the modern voiceover for movie trailers,"
said voiceover artist Jim Tasker. "He is the standard for which all other
voiceovers for movie trailers are measured. For the past 30 years, his voice has
been the gauge for all of us in the industry."
LaFontaine, who died Monday at the age of 68 from complications in the treatment
of an ongoing illness, was the world's most recognizable announcer, thanks to
his deft diction and a popular 2006 commercial in which he melodramatically
retells a customer's mundane account of dealing with her car insurance company
— all while standing inside her kitchen.
"The truth is there's only about 15 to 20 guys in the country who can do
this," said voiceover artist Tom Kane. "They'll do their best to fill
his shoes. It's funny. You can hear it in their voices. To one degree or
another, they're all doing their best Don LaFontaine impersonation."
LaFontaine got his start as an audio engineer in 1965. When an announcer didn't
show up for a recording session, LaFontaine stepped in and voiced his first
narration, a promo for the film, "Gunfighters of Casa Grande." The
client, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, liked his performance. He went on to voice more
than 5,000 trailers in a career that spanned 33 years.
LaFontaine, who made the phrase "In a world..." a movie trailer
staple, was a neutral voice in Hollywood. He worked on promos for every major
network and studio, many airing at the same time. He remained active until
recently, averaging seven to 10 voiceover sessions a day. Kane said LaFontaine
once admitted to working 50 sessions in one day, a personal record.
"From the very beginning, Don always knew how to evoke an emotional
response," said veteran voiceover casting director Martha Mayakis. "He
always knew how to create drama. The misconception people have about this
industry is that it's your voice that gets you the work, but there are plenty of
people who have beautiful voices who are not working."
For years, LaFontaine was infamously chauffeured from gig to gig in a limo —
not for ostentation but for efficiency. He insisted he could work more during
the day if he didn't have to wait at the valet stand or hunt for a parking
space. He would often invite up-and-coming voiceover artists to ride around town
with him to learn more about the industry.
"Where else do you hear of that happening in Hollywood?" said
voiceover artist Ashton Smith.
Smith once gave LaFontaine this testimonial to post on his Web site: "When
you die, the voice you hear in heaven is not Don's. It's God trying to sound
like Don." When rereading that quote Tuesday, Smith said "I guess God
is going to lose that gig when Don gets up there because Don is just that
LaFontaine is survived by his wife Nita Whitaker and three daughters.