Gary Owens, Announcer of ‘Laugh-In’ Fame, Dies at 80

Gary Owens Dead: Laugh-In Ghost Dies
M. Caulfield/WireImage

Radio, TV and voiceover performer Gary Owens died on Feb. 12 at his home in the Encino neighborhood of Los Angeles. Owens, who was 80, had been a diabetic since the age of 8.

Owens was probably best known as the announcer on NBC’s “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” (1968-73), with his trademark hand-over-the-ear announcing style. On the show, John Wayne once imitated Owens announcing. The phrase Owens created on his KMPC radio show, “Beautiful downtown Burbank,” later became a nightly catchphrase on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.”

Owens also lent his voice to more than 3,000 cartoons, providing the voice of “Space Ghost” as well as Blue Falcon, Roger Ramjet, Powdered Toast Man and even Batman. He was animated as himself in “Garfield and Friends,” “The Fantastic Four,” “Eek the Cat” and “Bobby’s World.”

Owens had a mellifluous baritone voice with impeccable nuanced timing, and was equally adept at comedy or deadpan delivery.

For 30 years, Owens hosted a national radio show on the Music of Your Life Network. He was a longtime radio personality at KMPC, KFI, KIIS FM, KFWB and KKGO in Los Angeles and KEWB in San Francisco.

He also collaborated with his friend Jonathan Winters, together creating three hit comedy CDs. He wrote for Jay Ward’s company for the series “Rocky & Bullwinkle,” “Fractured Flickers” and “The Nuthouse.”

Owens’ daily radio show aired on KMPC Los Angeles for 20 years and he later served as VP of Gene Autry’s Golden West Broadcasters. In 1983 he became a vice president at Gannett, then the USA’s biggest media corporation.

Owens started as a radio newscaster in Mitchell, South Dakota. When he arrived in Hollywood in 1961 for KFWB, he also began his TV career, doing four television specials a year for the Chris-Craft Corp. and their television station KCOP.

Since its inception in 1969, he was an announcer on “Sesame Street”; he was also one of the original contributors to PBS series “The Electric Company.”

He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Arleta, and sons Scott Owens, a producer, and Chris Dane Owens, a musician and producer.

Donations may be made to the Children’s Diabetes Foundation.


Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 49

Leave a Reply


Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. I first saw him on Laugh-In. Many radio announcers emulated his fabulous pipes, but none would compare. I am very sad to see him gone. He will live on forever on air check tapes. R.I. P. Gary. You were one of a kind.

  2. Brooks Hilliard says:

    Way back in the 1960s, Gary gave radio exposure, from time to time, to my friends and I who had formed the James K. Polk Fan Club. He also gave us tours of the KMPC studios. He was a kind and generous man, who we all remember fondly. He was also the fastest wit I have ever known.

    I will be making a donation the the International Diabetes Foundation in his memory on behalf of the Fan Club.

  3. Sally Marshall says:

    Dear Arleta, I know you and your sons will miss him enormously! I wish i were there to hug you and remember Gary the way he should be remembered. Love, Sally Marshall

  4. WT "Bill" McKibben says:

    In the early 1960s Gary was my morning drive guy at WIL in St Louis. He was talented in so many ways, but above all he was a kind and compassionate person. He fought through debilitating health problems that would have defeated most. I’m proud to say he was my friend.

  5. Atomic Fury says:

    God Bless You Mr. Owens. It was a lot of fun watching you on “Laugh-In” even for a kid. Thanks for all the laughs.

  6. This may sound trite, but he was, truly, “one of a kind”. So talented and so sorely missed, memories of his performances will cement his legacy ever more firmly on the landscape of American performers.

  7. Curt Miles says:

    May God welcome you into his Kingdom! You made me laugh all through my childhood and most of my adult life. It was an honor to have experienced your humor and talent.

  8. RIP Gary Owens, you were a legend! Your amazing voice will be remembered for centuries to come in repeats of shows and by your loving family and friends and the millions that loved you!!!!

  9. Kevin says:

    Quite frankly, even given the fact that a certain giggly, little tattooed blonde chick named Goldie Hawn go-goed her way into this horny little boy’s prepubescent fantasies and eventual superstardom as an actress, no one stood out on the comically pioneering masterwork, that was “Laugh In”, the way Gary
    Owens and his voice did. Trying to mimic his vocal goofs on that show and his signature “Space Ghost” bellow back then was the equivalent of kids and adults trying to sound like Darth Vader or Yoda now.
    His two other equally awesome spoken-word contemporaries, Casey Kasem and Don Pardo, have also
    left us recently. If it’s possible for God to get laryngitis, these guys will be his voice-over go tos. Encore!

  10. 12th Man says:

    He use to be the voice of Powdered Toast Man on “The Ren & Stimpy Show”.

  11. George Sharman says:

    Signing off from KMPC: “Remember, it’s been insegrevious.”

  12. Cathy Rogers says:

    Sad, loved that man and the show….

  13. Gary Owens filled in for Casey Kasem on American Top 40, during the weekend of September 11-12, 1981. Still, people from our childhood, slipping away, but one good phrase to make, “Thanks for the memories!!!”

  14. Gary Miller says:

    I feel so lucky growing up in the 60s in Los Angeles and listening to Gary Owens–on KFWB and then KMPC. Funny, crazy, creative, full of surprises and so much more. He also loved to invent words that made no sense like Fah-nork (not sure on the spelling). I always rated GO tops along with Stan Freeberg. Thank you and RIP Gary Owens, and my deepest condolences to his family.

  15. Stephanie Sellers says:

    RIP..I loved the show Laugh In–funny I was thinking about it today and then read the news.

  16. Robert says:

    We met in the 60’s…
    He was a class act. He helped me get thru some of my early days with big brotherly advice.

  17. Irwin Radner says:

    That lead in with the word GHOST instead of HOST is the most Freudian I’ve seen in a while

  18. Carol Sheppard says:

    Wow. Such a huge and wonderful part of my childhood. My introduction to comedy. So long Mr. Owens. I think of you often and you will remain in our hearts.

  19. Kc Stangel says:

    RIP Gary!

  20. Gary was one of those people you just loved being around. His stories were many and always well told. I enjoyed working wirh you buddy…RIP ans keep,the angels laughing.

  21. JOE S HILL says:

    End of a Legend! Gary Owens was THE Finest voice over man,and actor-and of course,synonomus to
    TV viewers,from NBC-TV’s “LAUGH-IN” TV series (1968-73) he also is known for playing many cartoon voice overs,starting with Ken Synder’s “ROGER RAMJET” in 1965,and Hanna-Barbera’s “SPACE GHOST” cartoon series for CBS in 1966. even made appearences in “THE GREEN HORNET” (1966)
    and did other voiceover work,mostly for ABC-TV in 1967,and voiced in Hanna-Barbera’s “THE PERILS OF PENELOPE PITSTOP” in 1969. this man was the greatest ever,and he will be seriously missed!!

  22. Thanks for all the laughter.

  23. Knute Josifek says:

    Gary Owens, along with Red Blanchard, Don Sherwood and Bob Crane were my DJ heros as I was growing up. There is no one like them any more. The “drive time” will probably not see the like again. What a loss. A passing of an era.
    Knute from “beautiful downtown Rancho Santa Margarita, CA.”

  24. Mike Friedman says:

    He was the best ever, period. I lived in LA during the 60’s and 70’s and never heard The Real Don Steele show because it was on at the same time as Gary Owens.

  25. Blah says:

    Narrator for Space Quest IV and 6. He was supposed to be in the spiritual successor to the Space Quest series, but alas those plans are gone. RIP Gary. Also had a role in Swat Kats.

  26. sweepsailor says:

    Sad day for all of us and the town of Burbank is sadder too. I have listened and watched Gary Owens since the early 1960s when he was on KEWB in the bay area. He kept me entertained thru thick and thin.. he will be missed by all humor fans.

  27. Kenneth preston says:

    Gary Owen was one of the guests in the season 3 Halloween episode of Sabrina The Teenage Witch, and was also one of the voices of Walt Disney Productions including a promo for the New Mickey Mouse Club, 1977 and Disney’s Wonderfull World. Thanks Gary!

  28. Larry & Lisa Lee says:

    How sad…a fantastic gentleman. My wife and I had the privilege of spending some time with both Gary and Arleta at their home one evening and they both made a wonderful impact on our life.

    Our sincere condolences.

  29. Marian Purcell says:

    i had a copy of the Nurnies Creed on my closet door as a kid and I can still remember bits….a Nurney is to the Earth as a vat of Botulism is to one of Julia Childs Yummy Burgers. I attribute my love of radio and much of my sense of humor to listening to Gary Owens as a kid. RIP and blessings to his family.

  30. Mark Seymour says:

    I grew up with “G.O.” on KMPC and attended a lecture he delivered [can you really call it a ‘lecture?’] to the media students at Santa Ana College. Everywhere I’ve turned in my 60 years Gary’s voice was there, somewhere, in a commercial, on a WC Fields LP, you name it. His humor is woven into the fabric of my life. I feel so fortunate to have grown up on this gentleman’s gentle humor. Thanx for all the laughs, Gary, and my condolences to your family. The world is now poorer for your absence. But the angels are in for a great time!

  31. Steve Morris says:

    A classy and kind man. I remember being in the break room at a radio station, where Gary was reminiscing, surrounded by delighted folks, employees of the various stations based there, who hung on his every word, enraptured. Thank you for your generosity, kindness and silliness. Every comfort to your family.

  32. Mr. Owens was so uniquely funny and genuinely warm – a friend of the family. He was very supportive, like a father and mentor, not only in regard to the TV business, but on a personal level with his care for family and friends. He will be missed …but always easily remembered.

  33. My condolences go out to Gary’s family. I loved watching him on Laugh In! May he rest in peace!

  34. geez just yesterday on YouTube I saw him in an old promo for NBC yes heaven must be funny now…but I wonder who next to go wonder if it’s Arte Johnson Gary’s Laugh-In co star Arte is 86 and had some form of melanoma back in the ’90s…like I said wonder if Arte Johnson will be next????!!!..if that happens I’ll be very upset I liked Arte though I saw the show in reruns

  35. Donna Thomas says:

    I always enjoyed Gary on Laugh In. His delivery always seemed
    to make me smile. He seemed like such a good guy.

  36. Tim says:

    Growing up from the late 1950’s, Gary Owens voice and delivery was great. Between Mel Blanc and Gary, heaven should be a comedic riot about now.

  37. Cyndy Carpentieri says:

    R.I.P. Gary Owens…you were one of the greats. My condolences to his wife and family.

  38. bill clotworthy says:

    I was a long-time radio and tv commercial producer in Hollywood and used Gary’s talent many times. He was a super talent but, more importantly, a genuinely nice man. My condolences to his wife and sons. God bless, Garish!
    Bill Clotworthy

  39. smendler says:

    Sympathies & condolences to Morgul the Friendly Dwelb

  40. Andrew Vrba says:

    He’s zapping the angels with his power bands now…

  41. Skip Justice says:

    Rest in peace Mr Owens.

  42. such a nice man…. always enjoyed seeing him @ events… he will be missed…. RIP Mr. Owens

  43. Chris says:

    “Laugh In” really was appointment TV. The day after it aired my friends and I would rehash all the jokes. And Gary Owens was a huge part of the show’s vibe. Condolences to his family.

  44. Michael WInship says:

    Worked with him on Henry Mancini’s last TV special in 1986. He was a real pro.

  45. Anna Rose says:

    Rest in Peace, sir. You were a big part of my childhood, in everything from Laugh-In to Space Ghost.

  46. My deepest condolences to his family and friends. May he rest in peace.

  47. Rita Tateel says:

    Stan Chambers and now Gary Owens! So sad to lose yet another L.A. icon like Gary. When Johnny Grant, the Honorary Mayor of Hollywood, passed away, Gary was front and center willing to take on the duties. R.I.P.

  48. Bob Little says:

    “I’m Gary Owens, and you’re not”. Possibly the best true radio announcer of his era!

More TV News from Variety