The Day The Voices Died
Trevor recalls the day Mel Blanc passed, exactly 30 years later.
God Damn You, Regis by Trevor Thompson (age 40) So, perhaps that title needs a little explanation, perhaps it needs a lot. Regis Philbin, through no deliberate fault of his own, was for many years, distilled in my mind as the Ultimate Bearer of Bad News merely because it was he that delivered the news to my then nine year old ears that my hero was gone.
I grew up in Pennsylvania and on weekends and during the summers our family would visit The Poconos. One of the best things about this was that, it being the mountains, I was surrounded by lush forrest all the time, and I often felt like I was in Bugs Bunny's world (this also applied to Calvin and Hobbes, in fact, my friend Anders and I had an area of the woods sanctioned off in our minds and known simply as Dinosaur Land), and so there I was, in Bugs's world, in a house in the woods with my family one Monday night watching network TV (the area of Poconos we vacationed in didn't have cable, at least, that's what our parents told us, this place in the woods being a vacation for them too) when Regis Philbin, next to presumably Kathy Lee, teased an upcoming show just before returning from commercial to whatever show it was we were all watching, "And also, the voice of Bugs Bunny, Mel Blanc, dead at 81."
That's when that Alfred Hitchcock / Jaws / Thriller thing happened where the camera zoomed in on me, but the background got bigger. My heart sank and I immediately went into panic mode. I ran to my room and I was talking a mile a minute. I started to write a letter and was dictating to myself (something I always thought of as madness when I saw people do it in TV and movies), when my parents came in and I collapsed in a heap of sobs into their arms. Incidentally, I had experienced the loss of someone close to me by this time. My grandfather - who, unlike my dad, was about as warm as a defrosting cactus - was never lovable but he was steadily approaching it, and had death not taken him when I was very young, he would surely have one day warmed up enough to be open to a handshake (though not a hug, because warm or not, that British elder cactus still had needles). This meant that, while I had known the feeling of losing someone in your family, I had never experienced the genuine emotional break-down that often comes with that. I loved Mel. I knew Grand Dad. So when he died it was a little different. "Oh, Grand Dad died? That sucks." Actually, I was six. I didn't say it that way. "Oh, Grand Dad died? That f**king sucks donkey d**ks, ma! Son of a god damn b**ch!"
The next day was even worse. I don't know how I slept, but I imagine that my Roger Rabbit pillowcase had at least a half a pound of my tears soaked into it. I had then what I believed qualified as a girlfriend but in reality was a girl I'd had a crush on my entire non-adult life, a still-beautiful to this day girl named Sarah, and one of my deepest fears about this time in my life is that her strongest memory of me is this very day. If my every move around her then was an attempt to impress, crying like Julianne Moore in literally every scene she's in of Magnolia wasn't going to get Sarah to swoon the way I - at that age - assumed girls actually did.
I remember getting dropped off at her house and the better part of her and her sisters' time that day was spent consoling me. Looking back, my parents probably had plans to drop me and my sister off with them that day, but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if all my carrying on had become so unbearable that my parents came up with the idea last minute. I mean, just look at this article. Obviously, I like to go on.
The strange thing is, I don't recall seeing any other news about Mel Blanc's death for several days. All I was basing this trauma on was a five second clip of Regis (although it's doubtlessly not the first piece of TV or film he's done to illicit a full day of crying). Remember, this is 1989 and I was in an area that only got the networks on TV. There was radio, but damned if I knew anything about how to get it to play news about Mel Blanc dying! Then again, what else did you need? Regis was on TV. The TV didn't lie to you when you were young. Or when I was. I don't know.
A year and a full month later there was Happy Birthday Bugs: 50 Looney Years, which aired on CBS, and with the exception of this handy little piece of literature...
... the 50th Birthday special was the first tribute of any kind that I recall seeing on TV about Mel's death. It was also the first time I saw that Speechless lithograph because there were two parts back to back in that special that talked about Mel, the first with Bill Cosby and Raven Simone on The Cosby Show set...
and then with Whoopi Goldberg, who actually showed the drawing by Darrel Van Citters.
God damn, that thing still puts a lump in my throat.
I guess the best thing to come from all of this, 30 years later, as with anything, is perspective. I remember legitimately feeling like Bugs Bunny was dead, you guys. I was ten years old and for as long as I knew who Bugs was, I knew who Mel was... he was Bugs Bunny! And now he was gone. I always knew that the cartoons weren't being made anymore, but Daffy Duck's Quackbusters and Who Framed Roger Rabbit had just come out. The future was bright again, and now, how can we have a resurgence in the LT characters without Mel?
The perspective, 30 years later, is this. There have been many Bugs Bunnys since him, and now, with the all-new Looney Tunes Cartoons and Eric Bauza stepping in, there will continue to be. To my younger self on that day, 30 years ago, I could happily report that, while Mel Blanc may be dead, his legacy is not, and, to my utter joy, his characters remain very much alive. - Trevor Thompson (the self-appointed Looney Tunes Critic) July 10, 2019 30 years after the passing of Mel Blanc (The Man of A Thousand Voices)