May 10, 1934
Mitchell, South Dakota, United States
February 12, 2015
Encino, California, United States
Known and loved for his smooth, baritone speaking voice, Gary Owens endeared himself to a generation as the genteel announcer on the variety show "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" (NBC, 1968-1973). Born Gary Altman in Mitchell, SD, Owens was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of nine. By the medical standards of 1943, this was considered a death sentence. But to Owens, the prognosis merely motivated him to prove how strong and capable he truly was. After graduating high school in Plankinton, SD and spending a year studying at Dakota Wesleyan University, Owens began his career working in radio. He first put his talents to work as a reporter for KORN in the nearby city of Mitchell in 1952, where he was promoted to news director two years later. Over the following decade, he would accept offers to work in Omaha, Dallas, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Denver, before finally settling at KMPC in Los Angeles. It was there that Owens developed the wacky, surrealistic comedy style that would become a trademark of his radio personality. Owens' show on KMPC was known for its host of strange and silly characters, many of whom were voiced by Owens himself. One of the host's popular segments was his "Moo Cow Report," which gave supposed traffic information based on the fictional movement of cows across major Los Angeles freeways. He also peppered his broadcast with new, nonsense words of his own creation, like krenellmuffin, creebling, and veister. By the mid-1960s, Owens was providing voice acting for commercials, as well as cartoons like "Space Ghost" (CBS, 1966). It was in 1967, however, that a chance meeting led to the announcer's biggest foray into television. He walked into a men's room at a Smoke House restaurant in Burbank and ran into an acquaintance, producer George Schlatter. When Owens greeted his friend with a congenial, "Hello, George!" the sound reverberated in the bathroom's resonant acoustic space. Schlatter, it just so happened, was working on an upcoming comedy show called "Laugh-In." The producer was suddenly struck with the idea of Owens providing stately announcements to transition between the show's zany sketches, and asked Owens on the spot if he would do it. Owens accepted the offer and soon became an integral presence on "Laugh-In." His dapper voice and dignified image offered the perfect juxtaposition to the show's zany tone, and Owens used his immense comedic talent to maximize the effect. The show premiered in 1968, not long after Owens married his wife, Arleta. It proved to be a massive success and ran until 1973. Before its final season, Owens released a comedy album, "Put Your Head on My Finger." Throughout all this, he continued to produce his radio show. In 1980, he was recognized for his contributions to the entertainment industry with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Owens' career had hardly reached its end, however, as he would lend his voice talent to countless commercials, numerous TV shows, and movies over the coming years, even providing narration for the EPCOT Pavilion at Walt Disney World. He took over as the announcer on the popular series "America's Funniest Home Videos" (ABC, 1989-) in 1995, and published a memoir, How to Make a Million Dollars With Your Voice (Or Lose Your Tonsils Trying), in 2004. Owens died at his home in Encino, CA on February 12, 2015. He was 80 years old.