Don Pardo, owner of the dulcet voice that introduced viewers to everyone from John Belushi and Will Ferrell to Gilda Radner and Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live, died Monday at his home in Tucson, The New York Times reports. He was 96.
An employee of NBC throughout his 70-year career, Pardo had lent his voice to numerous hit shows before Lorne Michaels hired him to announce SNL upon its debut in 1975. Despite accidentally introducing the Not Ready for Prime-Time Players as the “Not for Ready Prime-Time Players” on the first episode, Pardo remained with the show for 38 seasons, missing only Season Seven, when Michaels left as well.
Born in Westfield, Massachusetts, Pardo’s interest in theater and radio blossomed as a student at Norwich Free Academy in Connecticut, and after moving to Providence, he began working with a local theater troupe. After several performances on the Providence NBC affiliate, the station manager offered him a $30-a-week announcing gig, which his wife convinced him to take despite the pay cut from his job at a machine tool manufacturer.
Following a trip to NBC Studios in New York City with friend Hal Simms — who’d also become a sought-after TV and radio voice — Pardo thanked Patrick J. Kelly, the supervisor of announcers, for organizing the tour and was offered a job. In 1944, he started on the radio night-shift, but within a few years he was placed on television, even calling a few baseball games.
Pardo worked on everything from The Colgate Comedy Hour to the Price Is Right, where then-host Bill Cullen would occasionally mention him on air. While the Price Is Right moved to ABC in 1963, Pardo stayed at NBC: He would go on to be the first to alert viewers of the network’s flagship station, WNBC, that President John F. Kennedy had been shot, and in 1964 he was named announcer for Jeopardy!.
When the original version of that game show ended in 1975, Pardo was hired on SNL, as Michaels thought his authoritative voice was the perfect counterpoint to the absurd late-night comedy. “It couldn’t have been a more different culture,” Mr. Michaels said. “But it was perfect for us.” Pardo’s job announcing the stars helped solidify his own status: He made multiple appearances on the show, including one with musical guest Frank Zappa (which he recreated on the musician’s live album, Zappa in New York); he later made a cameo in “Weird Al” Yankovic‘s “I Lost on Jeopardy!,” worked on Woody Allen’s Radio Days and appeared in a 2009 episode of 30 Rock.
While Pardo retired in 2004, he continued to work on Saturday Night Live, often flying to New York from Arizona each week. Pardo was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame in 2010, where former SNL cast member Maya Rudolph summed up the power and significance of his voice: “The moment you said my name was the height of my career.”