SANTA ANA, Calif. – Thurl Ravenscroft of Fullerton, Calif., whose voice was known worldwide through his work in movies, TV and at Disneyland, died Sunday from prostate cancer. He was 91.

Tony the Tiger?

That was Ravenscroft.

Disneyland? Too many voices to mention, but Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion and the Enchanted Tiki Room were all graced by Ravenscroft’s pliable, unique voice.

Movies? How about “Cinderella,” “Dumbo” and “Lady and the Tramp”?

“Disneyland wouldn’t have been, and wouldn’t be, the same without him,” said former park President Jack Lindquist. “It’s all part of the experience. You can’t go home with a ride, but you can go home with a memory, and part of that is the audio – the sound part of it. His voice was one of the things that made it all come alive.”

Thurl Arthur Ravenscroft was born Feb. 6, 1914, in Norfolk, Neb. He moved to California in 1933 to study interior design at the Otis College of Art and Design. While in school he was encouraged to go into show business and auditioned at Paramount studios to be a singer.

By the mid-1930s, he was appearing regularly on radio, first on a program titled “Goose Creek Parson.” In the late 1930s, he appeared on the “The Kraft Music Hall” with Bing Crosby, singing backup in a group called the Paul Taylor Choristers. That group eventually became the Sportsmen Quartette.

After military service during World War II, he returned to Hollywood, later becoming involved in the Mellomen singing group, and began a career in radio, movies, television and commercials. The group could sing anything from rock “n’ roll to bebop to barbershop, and it performed with a list of stars including Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.

In 1952, Ravenscroft achieved a measure of immortality, thanks to a TV commercial.

“I’m the only man in the world that has made a career with one word: Grrrrreeeeat!” Ravenscroft roared in a 1996 interview with The Orange County Register. “When Kellogg’s brought up the idea of the tiger, they sent me a caricature of Tony to see if I could create something for them. After messing around for some time I came up with the “Great!’ roar, and that’s how it’s been since then.”

Ravenscroft’s involvement with Disneyland goes back to opening day in 1955, when he was the announcer for many of the ceremonies and events. His voice has been heard on numerous Disneyland attractions and rides, including Adventure Through Inner Space (1967-1986). He was the original narrator on Submarine Voyage.

In 1966, Dr. Seuss and Chuck Jones teamed up to do “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” for CBS. Ravenscroft recalled the Grinch fondly, saying, “That was my chance to prove I could really sing.” The success of the Grinch led to other projects with Dr. Seuss, including “Horton Hears a Who” and “The Cat in the Hat.”

His singing career continued into the 1970s. As a member of the Johnny Mann Singers, he sang on 28 albums, appeared on television for three seasons and performed for President Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev at the White House.

One of Ravenscroft’s biggest local claims to fame undeniably was his narration of Laguna Beach’s Pageant of the Masters, a job that began in 1973 and lasted for two decades. He told the Register upon his retirement that it was his favorite gig of all time.

“I’ve learned more about art doing the Pageant than I ever did in art school,” he said.

Pageant scriptwriter Dan Duling remembered working with Ravenscroft as “a wonderful collaboration.

“He was a gentleman who was beloved, and is still beloved, at the pageant,” Duling said. “He was considered the grandpa of the pageant. Everyone backstage adored him.”

Ravenscroft possessed, said Duling, “one of the great basso voices, so distinctive. For me, it was like writing music for an instrument that has a few tones that are absolutely unmistakable. It was so distinctive that you had to play to its strengths. He could bring a kind of deep, resonant reverence to something that deserved proper respect. Also, in his folksy manner, he could be the grandpa that everybody loved,” Duling said.

Another fan with memories is Werner Weiss, Web master of www.yesterland.com, an Internet site that highlights popular Disneyland attractions, including many that no longer exist.

“(Ravenscroft) is one of the busts in the Haunted Mansion,” Weiss said. “He’s uncredited, as so many cast members at the park are, but it’s his face and voice. It’s unusual. You actually SEE him in that attraction, a man whose voice you’re heard a thousand times.”

June, Ravenscroft’s wife of 53 years, died in 1999 at age 80. He is survived by two children, Ron and Nancy, and four grandchildren. Services are pending.


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