Don LaFontaine, the man who popularized the now-loved catchphrase “in a world where…” and lent his voice to thousands of movie previews, died Monday of a collapsed lung in Los Angeles. He was 68.
LaFontaine made more than 5,000 trailers in his 33-year career working for the studios and television networks. He was also the voice of the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Academy Awards telecasts.
In a rare onscreen appearance in 2006, he parodied himself in a television commercial for Geico car insurance. Playing himself, he told a customer, “In a world where both of our cars were totally under water…”
In an interview last year, LaFontaine explained the strategy behind his signature phrase.
“We have to very rapidly establish the world we are transporting them to,” he said of his viewers. “That’s very easily done by saying, ‘In a world where … violence rules.’ ‘In a world where … men are slaves and women are the conquerors.’ You very rapidly set the scene.”
LaFontaine insisted he never cared that no one knew his name or his face, though everyone knew his voice.
Born in Duluth, Minn., LaFontaine served in the Army, where he worked as a recording enginer. He moved to New York to work in the promo industry in the early 1960s. As an audio engineer, he produced radio spots for movies with producer Floyd Peterson.
When an announcer didn’t show up for a recording session in 1965, LaFontaine voiced his first narration, a promo for the film “Gunfighters of Casa Grande.” The client, MGM, liked his performance.
He worked as head of production for trailer house Kaleidoscope Films and then started his own production company, Don LaFontaine Associates. In 1978, he became head of the Paramount Pictures trailer department, becoming the “voice of Paramount” for several years. He left Par in 1981 to work independently and became known as “the king of voiceovers,” voicing campaigns for NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox and UPN as well as TNT, TBS and the Cartoon Network. He is thought to have signed more SAG contracts than any other actor.
LaFontaine remained active until recently, averaging seven to 10 voiceover sessions a day. He worked from a home studio his wife nicknamed “the Hole,” where his fax machine delivered scripts. He was also active in working with the Silver Lake Children’s Theater Group in Los Angeles.
LaFontaine is survived by his wife, singer-actress Nita Whitaker, and three daughters.