Gary Owens, an L.A. radio staple and busy voice actor who was the hand-over-ear announcer on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, died Thursday at his home in Encino, CA. He was 78. His publicist Vicki Greenleaf confirmed Owens’ death to Deadline.
Owens already was a radio veteran when he rose to national fame as a regular on NBC’s groovy ensemble show Laugh-In. With his signature facial hair, well-coiffed hair, glasses and hand cupped over his ear, he was the show’s “host,” and he and Ruth Buzzi were the only members of the large cast to stay with the show during its entire 1968-73 run. His wry wit meshed seamlessly with Laugh-In‘s often outrageous humor.
His smooth, instantly recognizable voice was catnip for L.A. and national radio audiences and perfectly suited for animated fare. Owens also appeared in countless commercials and scores of TV series — often working those pipes as a narrator or announcer — including Batman, The Munsters, Bewitched, Barnaby Jones, Get Christie Love, America’s Funniest Home Videos, Wonderful World of Disney, Simon & Simon, , Full House, Night Court, Sledge Hammer!, No Soap, Radio, America’s Fun, niest Home Videos and Wizards Of Waverly Place. He also worked on Sesame Street since its 1969 launch, was the original host of The Gong Show in 1976 before creator Chuck Barris took over for Season 2 and was a regular on the short-lived Hudson Brothers Show in 1974
But his most famous roles other than Laugh-In were voice-overs on animated programs. He was the title character on Space Ghost and worked on The Green Hornet, The Scooby-Doo/Dynamutt Hour (in which his old pal Kasem voiced Shaggy) and subsequent Dynamutt Dog Wonder, Yogi’s Space Race and later Yogi’s Treasure Hunt, Square One TV, Dinosaurs, The Ren & Stimpy Show, Garfield And Friends and Eek! The Cat.
Born Gary Altman on May 10, 1936 in Mitchell, SD, Owens began his radio career in the mid-1950s, bouncing around multiple stations in various states before heading to California in 1959. He landed a gig in Sacramento then segued to KEWB-AM, where he teamed with another future radio and voice-over legend, Casey Kasem.
Owens headed south in 1961 and landed at KFWB Los Angeles, where he worked for a year before moving to then-music station KMPC. He would work the afternoon drive shift there for the next two decades — including his Laugh-In years. It was during that stint that Owens coined the phrase “Beautiful Downtown Burbank,” which Johnny Carson adopted for The Tonight Show. In 1967, Billboard ranked him No. 3 Most Influential DJ in the Pop LP category — he later would make it to No. 2 — in 1968, the Los Angeles Times voted Owens Disc Jockey of the Year, and he was the announcer for the 1969 Grammy Awards. He later worked at L.A. radio outlets KPRZ, KKGO, KFI, KLAC and KJQY and during the 1980s hosted the nationally syndicated programs Soundtrack Of The 60’s. and Gary Owens Supertracks.
Owens recorded several comedy albums, wrote books, appeared in films including as the announcer in Disney’s 1969 hit The Love Bug and the upcoming straight-to-DVD movie The Adventures Of Kaitlyn Kitty Kat Kay. He also served terms on the Board of Governors of the Emmys and the Grammys and was VP of Gene Autry’s Golden West Broadcasters He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was a 1995 inductee into the NAB’s Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
Owens, a diabetic since childhood, is survived by his wife, Arleta, and their sons, Scott and Chris. His family asks that donations be made in Owens’ name to the Children’s Diabetes Foundation .