Scooby-Doo’s legendary voice was created by Don Messick, who died of a stroke in 1997. This halloween, Google honours his achievement through a series of seasonal doodles.
Don Messick was one of the most prolific voice actors of the 20th century. Apart from working on Scooby-Doo, the show’s eponymous talking dog, he also voiced other kids’ cartoon icons such as Papa Smurf, Ranger Smith, Boo Boo Bear and Astro.
Messick was born in New York in 1926. At first, the youngster wanted to be a ventriloquist – a stage performer who manipulates his or her own voice to make it look like it is coming from somewhere else, usually using a puppet as a prop – and supported himself being one for a time. He later recalled memories from his childhood when he started hearing voices. Then people around his began hearing those voices too. A doctor eventually deduced that these voices were coming from Messick, who was unconsciously talking to himself and others. “The doctor said, “’Lots of people talk without saying anything, but you’re a freak. You say things without even talking.’ He told me to gargle with pink ink. Instead, I got myself a wooden partner and became a ventriloquist,“ Povonline cites.
His big break came in the mid-1940s when he was suddenly asked to step in as the voice of Droopy Dog, due to the original actor’s illness. When Bill Thompson left the production around 10 years later, Massick was asked to take over.
He was cast as Scooby-Doo in 1989 and the role would remain his best known. He voiced the Great Dane through numerous TV shows, four films and and several commercials. He later also took on the role of Scrappy-Doo, Scooby’s nephew.
In 1981 he started voicing Papa Smurf, from hit cartoon Smurfs. Around this time, he did various bits of work on The Jetsons, The Transformers, Duck Factory as well as returning to his old-time role of Droopy for Tom and Jerry Kids.
In 1996, Messick suffered a stroke while recording. He turned pale and muttered, “I can’t do this anymore,” stumbled out and went home.
Povonline cites another actor who was there at time and said, “If it had been anyone else, we’d have figured the guy had the flu or he had a hangover or something. But for Don Messick to not finish a job…we all started crying because we knew it had to be something very, very bad.”
The following day, Messick’s agent phoned around to say the star had retired and that other actors should be cast in his role. At a retirement party held a couple of months later, the actor’s speech was slurred due to the stroke, yet he could still make the Scooby-Doo noises and wore a tie with the dog on it.
Messick suffered a second stroke and died on October 27 1997 aged 71. A former colleague remarked: “He was a true gentleman, a true professional, and he did his job as well as humanly possible. And maybe just a little bit better than that, even.“
So as we celebrate Halloween this year, let’s remember some of the greats without whom our lives would have been a lot duller.