Wednesday, August 20, 2014

8.20.14 Hero of the Day: Don Pardo

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Name: Don Pardo
Age: was 96
Occupation: TV and radio announcer
Last Seen: Tucson, AZ
Awarded For: being TV's greatest announcer

In the 39-year history of Saturday Night Live, no cast member has ever died while being a current part of being the Not Ready For Prime Time Players.

But the man who had been with the show the longest time - even longer than producer Lorne Michaels himself - should be well-deserving of a tribute when the show resumes this upcoming Fall season. It might even be the toughest time for the show since 9/11.

Announcer Don Pardo passed away at his home in Tucson, AZ Monday night in his sleep. He was 96. He had been with SNL since day one in 1975 with the exception of the 1981-82 season thanks to a restructuring of the show due to poor ratings. What made Pardo so special was the fact that he had been with NBC since 1944 - 70 years - a rarity for just about 99% of the population. His first radio job was at WJAR in Providence, RI in 1938 and moved on to New York and NBC a few years later. He was a staff announcer, announcing radio programs and other bits of programming. He moved on to television where he started announcing game shows in the 1950's, all for NBC. His first notable hit was The Price is Right, which debuted in 1956 and starred Bill Cullen. However, when the show moved over to ABC in 1963, Pardo stayed put at NBC, where in 1964, he started work on yet another TV classic, the original Jeopardy! with Art Fleming. That version ended in 1975.

One of Don's most-tragic moments of being a staff announcer was that in 1963, he announced the assassination of President Kennedy on NBC Television in front of millions of viewers. The tape of Pardo's broadcast had been recently discovered and is now all over YouTube.

In 1975, young comedy writer Lorne Michaels hired Pardo to be the primary announcer for a new late night comedy show he created called NBC's Saturday Night. He wanted somebody old fashioned to mix in with a cast of young, hip newbies who would take TV by storm. He notoriously screwed up the name of the troupe as the "Not For Ready Prime Time Players", his first flub in his long broadcast history. Pardo remained with the show until 1981 when NBC fired him from the show because of a much-needed retooling for the then-struggling program. He was replaced with Mel Brandt, another long-time NBC announcer. However, Pardo came back to the show in 1982 after viewers demanded him back.

To many an SNL star, to have your name announced by Don Pardo guaranteed that you were now famous. He announced people who went on to bigger and better things, others who didn't become as famous and others who left us way too early. Even Lorne Michaels himself called Don his "lucky charm" and would do anything to keep him on the show. But old age was a factor for Pardo. In 1995, his wife passed away and he moved to Tucson, flying to and from New York to announce the show. However, as his health deteriorated, he was allowed to record his lines from a studio in his house. He was forced to miss several shows two years ago after a fall fractured his hip.

Now, with the season premiere of SNL just weeks away, some are already wondering who would ever replace a man like Don. Bear in mind that Steve Higgins, the current announcer on The Tonight Show also does some sub-announcing for SNL, too.

But one thing's for certain, it just won't be the same now that Don Pardo is gone. He was the voice of one of television's longest-known franchises and for him to pass is almost a sin. But, that's life. His rich, baritone voice made SNL what it was. His loss is sad and painful, but at least we'll have the memories. Thanks, Don, for influencing so many people and for setting a standard in broadcasting that many won't even touch.

And while you're up there, say hi to Johnny Olsen, Gene Wood, Rod Roddy, Fred Facey, Howard Reig and all their kin, will ya?

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