09.3.2008 | By Mack Chico |
Don LaFontaine, who brought his sonorous, ominous, melodramatic baritone to so many thousands of movie trailers, commercials and television promos that he became known in the industry as “the voice of God,” or just “the V.O.G.,” died Monday near his home in Los Angeles. He was 68.
His death was confirmed by his agent, Kevin Motley. The official cause has not been released.
In a 33-year career Mr. LaFontaine did voice-overs for more than 5,000 movie trailers, 350,000 commercials and thousands of television promos, including dozens of “Next week on ‘E.R.’ “ spots.
“Don was an absolute treasure to the voice-over industry,” Joan Baker, the author of “Secrets of Voice-Over Success” (Sentient Publications, 2005), said in an interview on Tuesday. “He had a unique sound, a voice placed deep in his body that cut through the sound bites and the music.”
Ms. Baker said Mr. LaFontaine “understood the dynamics of each word and gave each word a musical note that was intuitive, which is why he could perform in so many genres — action, drama, comedy, romance, horror films, science fiction.”
Mr. LaFontaine wrote most of his voice-overs and, sometimes with collaborators, came up with familiar phrases like “a one-man army,” “one man, one destiny,” “from the bedroom to the boardroom,” and “nowhere to run, nowhere to hide and no way out.”
But he is best known for “In a world where … ,” which has become overused and the subject of parody. Ms. Baker could not say for what production that phrase was first used. But in an interview last year, Mr. LaFontaine explained its intent.
“We have to very rapidly establish the world we are transporting them to,” he said of his viewers. “That’s very easily done by saying: ‘In a world where … violence rules,’ ‘In a world where … men are slaves and women are the conquerors.’ You very rapidly set the scene.”
Comics have since pounced on the phrase, and in 2005 Mr. LaFontaine himself spoofed it in a commercial for Geico Insurance. It was one of a series in which celebrities commented on the tales of real people involved in accidents.
“People had heard his voice for decades, but the Geico spot put him on the map, visually,” Ms. Baker said. “In his commercial, this very plain woman describes her accident, and Don, in the background, narrates it in movie-trailer promo talk. The very first thing he says starts, ‘In a world where both of our cars are totally under water … ’ “
Born in Duluth, Minn., on Aug. 26, 1940, Mr. LaFontaine joined the Army soon after graduating from high school and was assigned to an Army band as a recording engineer. After his discharge, he got a job with National Recording Studios in New York. There he met Floyd Peterson, a producer of radio commercials, and they formed a company to produce movie trailers.
In 1965, a scheduling mix-up prevented an announcer from making a session; Mr. LaFontaine took over the mike to read radio spots for “Gunfighters of Casa Grande.” To his surprise, MGM liked his first personal performance. In 1976, Mr. LaFontaine started his own production company. His first assignment was for “The Godfather, Part II.” Two years later, he became head of the trailer department at Paramount Pictures.
He later returned to independent production. Over the years, he did promos for films including “Terminator,” “Fatal Attraction,” “Cheaper by the Dozen,” “Batman Returns” and “The Elephant Man.” He did commercials for Chevrolet, Pontiac, Ford, Budweiser, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, among other companies.
Mr. LaFontaine is survived by his wife, the singer-actress Nita Whitaker, and three daughters, Christine, Skye and Elyse.
Working from a home studio that his wife dubbed “the Hole,” Mr. LaFontaine remained active until recently, averaging at least seven voice-overs a day. Last year, he did a promotion for the “The Simpsons Movie,” in which his comments were immediately echoed by characters from the film. At one point he says, “Hey, you’re just repeating everything I’m saying!” and Homer responds: “I know. It’s weird!”