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Friends Remember How The 'King Of Voice Overs'

Don LaFontaine Shaped Their Lives And Careers

August 17, 2012

On Aug. 25, 2012 in Chicago, That's Voiceover - the elegant annual voice over training and networking event - will honor the late voice over legend Don LaFontaine in a special tribute featuring inspired moments from his life and legacy. Below, in advance of that event, are memories of how Don helped shape lives and voice over careers. (For special $110 discount ticket to That's Voiceover, click here and enter promo code: VOXTRA.)

By John Florian

You know about Don LaFontaine, certainly the most well-known of all voice actors - the King of Voice Overs - who passed away in 2008. Yet for all his royal talent, this king was about his followers, friends and colleagues.

My brief encounter with Don was at VOICE 2007 - an industry conference in Las Vegas, where he met voice actors in a receiving line. We shook hands, exchanged smiles, and I told him of my plan to launch VoiceOverXtra - a news and training website for voice actors. He liked the idea, encouraged me to do it, and suggested I stay in touch. Wow. I felt empowered and much more confident.

And this is typical of how Don affected friends and colleagues.

In advance of a special tribute to Don at That's VoiceOver, the high-energy voice over education and networking event in Chicago on Aug. 25, VoiceOverXtra invited several of Don's friends to share their memories of how he affected their lives and careers.
You are invited to share your thoughts and memories, too, as a COMMENT to this article.
'Keep Giving ... Work Hard'

Voice Actor

I've been asked this question quite a bit since Don died, and there is always one answer that comes to mind for each of those categories. Here's what I personally feel Don taught me:  
Life. When you think you have nothing left to give, keep giving. It will come back to you and in ways you could never imagine.  
Voice Overs. Talent is not everything. It's what you do with your voice that counts. If you can get that and are willing to work hard, there's room for everyone in this business.

'Find Your Voice'

Voice Actor

Don always said in interviews and to voice over hopefuls, "Find your voice." 

My personal experience with this concept goes back to 2005. Don and I were in New York City in June of that year for a Secrets of Voice Over Success seminar and it was a particularly difficult time for me, professionally. I had just found out that I was dropped by a very big client, which resulted in the sudden loss of nearly half of my income. 

It was depressing and a very uncertain time. 

Don knew how I was feeling and he called me on my cell to invite me up to his hotel room for a chat before the seminar that night. 

He had a beautiful suite at the Michelangelo Hotel and he met me at the door with a big bear hug. He knew how down I was about recent events, and upon taking a seat in the living room, he said, "Joey, don't worry about this. You're too good to not work."

I didn't share the same enthusiasm for my situation. In fact, I said to him that it crossed my mind that the ride may be over, styles change and all that. 

He simply said, "Find your voice."

He went on to point out that the voice in which I was speaking to him at the moment in his hotel room was vastly different from the high-energy comedy performance I was known for at Fox, CBS, and so many other networks and shows.

He told me to explore that voice.

Well, I did that when I got back to Los Angeles and found out that NBC was looking for a new Drama promo voice. I had never done dramas or tapped in to that lower register in my voice before because I relied on the tried-and-true comedy sound. 

So I went about creating a new demo using my lower register on a series of drama promos. And when I was done and played it for friends and my agents, no one could have guessed it was me. 

But it was me, truly me, just a different version of me - a different attitude, a different voice.

I ended up getting the NBC gig off of that demo, and voiced the promos for all of their dramas until 2007.

This opened up new opportunities for me - and funny enough, a few years, later the job I had originally lost which had caused such worry, came back to me.

About a year into the NBC job, I was with Don at a party and he was retelling this story from his perspective - the sudden loss of half my income and our meeting at his hotel suite which inspired me to find my voice.

After telling the story, he leaned over to me and said, "Joey, you're a bigger man than me. If that had happened to me I think I might have rolled up into the fetal position and not come out." 

Of course, Don LaFontaine wouldn't have done that at all. He would have done what I did and probably more. 

I do know this: His concern and his words of encouragement at a low point in my career helped me so much more than I can tell you.  

'Sharing His Joyful Being'
Voice Actor / Coach / Author
Co-producer, That's VoiceOver

That's like asking an angel what it was like to get her first pair of wings. I met Don by phone when I called to talk to him about contributing a chapter about his career to my book, Secrets of Voice-Over Success. My good friend Cedering Fox arranged the introduction.

Of course, I knew of Don's legendary status and was in awe of his career and his talent. But Don didn't know me at all, and couldn't know how serious a person I was or whether this book would ever see the light of day.

And yet, he embraced me immediately, sight unseen, and invited me to send my framework of interview questions. The very next morning I received a fully edited chapter of his life.

Here was a legendary figure who didn't know me from a hole in the wall who had devoted a part of himself on faith alone, for nothing in return except what we all get from giving.

That's one of those life lessons that flip your point of view before you know it.

Publishing Secrets of Voice-Over Success changed my life in more ways than I can count, and Don's participation and the way he participated, is a huge part of what made it successful. Whenever and wherever we had a book signing or speaking engagement, no matter which coast, Don was there by my side sharing his joyful being and urging me forward.

He appreciated the fact that I was of mixed heritage, like his own children, and I will never be able to fully express what that very personal connection meant for me. So yes, my life has changed for having known him and even more for having let him in.

Don's message for us all applies as much to voice acting as it does to all of life's pursuits:

Honor the opportunity to bring your best self to everything you do. Become a giver and you'll never have to find time for it.

These are not his words to me, but in a sense they are words he channeled into our relationship.

'Every Day Is Precious'

President, TGMD Talent Agency

I learned that every day is precious. I learned that humor is preferred. I learned it takes one to know one.

I think about DLF at least three times a day. I smile. I miss him.

(Don's wife) Nita's book, Finding My Voice, is very tender and dear, and I feel like I am blessed to have known and shared time on this planet with both of them.

Also See Part 2, featuring Bill Ratner, Cedering Fox and Rudy Gaskins

Note: Special Discount Offer: For a half-price, $110 ticket to attend That's VoiceOver, please click here and enter promo code: VOXTRA.

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Comments (6)
Bobbie Tanaka
8/19/2012 at 2:19 AM
Can't wait for part II of this wonderful John Florian piece, as well as what's in store at That's Voiceover Chicago. Great job to all.
Tommy Carr
8/18/2012 at 5:44 PM
I really have to give a sincere shot out to the dynamic Joan Baker. Her seminar and book signing at The Museum of the Moving Image a number of years ago, was where I spoke to my idol, Don La Fontaine. Joan gave the audience access to all the star VO talent, and Don was the leader of the pack. Don not only signed my book but gave me a lesson on the spot about his style of copy reading. I was trembling with excitement and then he encouraged me to find my voice(s), and take the plunge. I did just that, and make a nice living with my voice now.

I have to thank Joan Baker for what ended up being a changing point in my life. I see why Don was by Joan’s side - he recognized a true angel on his path with a set of vibrant wings.
Jay Lloyd
8/18/2012 at 4:55 PM
Although I never met Don, I feel very linked to him. We were born just 352 days apart and grew up only 47 miles from each other in NE Minnesota. We both moved to Los Angeles. Contemporarily, we both worked in films and voiced products. I knew who he was and followed his career. I admired his generosity and perhaps that's why I subconsciously mentored so many others in performing arts. I lament never meeting him. Next month we will mark the date of his passing once again with both sadness and celebration for all that he was. Kindest wishes for Nita and their children.
Philip Banks
8/18/2012 at 4:54 AM
I was very encvouraged to read Joe's contribution to this piece. In this business we lack honesty and integrity yet there is an abundance of self-promotion and shallowness.

Obviously I take no pleasure in reading about someone hurting, but I have the greatest of admiration for a man who can say openly that something went very wrong. With encouragement and his own enterprise to learn the fact that he bounced back was the icing on the cake.

What Joe Cipriano wrote, today, made a difference to me. Thank you.
Bob Hurley
8/17/2012 at 11:16 PM
"...had devoted a part of himself on faith alone, for nothing in return except what we all get from giving. "

That, my friends, says it all. Thank you Joan.
Judie Stillman
8/17/2012 at 2:36 PM
As a promo writer and producer, I had the pleasure of working with Don on many occasions. The anticipation of how a script would sound was always surpassed by his gifted and elegant style. He always brought more than expected.
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