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.
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