Don Pardo, the Booming Voice of 'Saturday Night Live,' Dies at 96

 Sara Cozolino/Everett Collection

Don Pardo, the magisterial announcer of Saturday Night Live for nearly 40 years — the highlight of seven heard and hardly seen decades at NBC — has died. He was 96.

Pardo died Monday evening, an NBC spokesperson confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter. He died in his sleep at his home in Tucson, Ariz.

He broke his hip in March 2013, causing him to miss two episodes of the SNL season, but he was back introducing the cast starting in September. 

In 2010, the booming baritone became the first announcer to be inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in recognition of a lifetime in broadcasting that included work on game shows including the original versions of The Price Is Right and Jeopardy, soap operas and news programs.

As the NBC staff announcer on Nov. 22, 1963, he was among the first to tell the nation about the assassination attempt on President John F. Kennedy. At 1:45 p.m. Eastern time, Pardo, speaking over an NBC Television Station title card, broke into a rerun of Bachelor Father and said in his 22-second report: "President Kennedy was shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy. She cried, ‘Oh, no.' "

"When I read the bulletin, I thought I sounded pretty good, considering," Pardo once said. "But in retrospect, I don’t know how I did it."

Pardo was a 31-year NBC veteran when Lorne Michaels hired him as the announcer for SNL, which debuted on Sept. 11, 1975. Working out of a hallway and later a recording booth inside Studio 8H at Rockefeller Center, he each week intoned, “It’s Saturday Night!” before introducing the castmembers, guest host and musical guest — a signature part of the show.

"He was very much an 'announcer‚' " Michaels said. “That’s what I wanted, that authority voice.”

In a sign of what was not to come, Pardo flubbed the opening of the very first show, transposing two words when he referred to the cast as “The Not for Ready Primetime Players.”

Pardo, who occasionally performed in SNL skits — one was a memorable 1976 musical number with Frank Zappa — was replaced for the 1981-82 season and missed only a handful of other shows because of illness. He wanted to retire in 2004 but was told he had a lifetime contract if he chose to accept it.

"I found out that only two people [at NBC] had ever had lifetime contracts," he said, "Bob Hope and me."

Pardo stuck around, first commuting on Thursdays from his home in Tucson, Ariz., to Manhattan to do the SNL introductions, then performing those duties from home.

"Nothing is like the moment when Don Pardo says your name," former SNL player Jimmy Fallon said.

Born Dominick Pardo on Feb. 22, 1918, in Westfield, Mass. (his middle name was George because he was born on George Washington’s birthday), Pardo acted in high-school productions, won the Newton Perkins Prize for public speaking in his senior year and attended Boston’s Emerson College. He wanted to be an actor but figured he wasn’t good-looking enough.

As a member of the 20th Century Players, he performed regularly on Providence, R.I., radio station WJAR, an affiliate of NBC. The station manager heard Pardo deliver a lengthy narration and offered him a job as an announcer.

In 1944, while visiting NBC in New York City, Pardo was asked to audition for a network job. He recorded something for about a minute and was surprised to get an offer a few days later.

When NBC began to experiment with television in the summer of 1946, he did play-by-play for baseball games at Yankee Stadium, Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds. Pardo was hammered by one reviewer who complained he talked too much; as a radio man, he was accustomed to filling in every second on the air.

"I’m glad Lorne Michaels didn’t see that review," Pardo quipped during his Hall of Fame induction speech.

Pardo forged a career as a game show announcer, working on Winner Take All, Three on a Match, Call My Bluff, Jackpot and, starting in 1956, the Bill Cullen-hosted Price Is Right, where he also warmed up the studio audience before the cameras rolled.

"He was fantastic in the warm-up," the late Bob Stewart, who created the show, once said. "The audience came in, and he would talk to them and get them pumped up. Then, when the magic moment came for the show to start, he would put his hands up and the crowd would go totally silent. I was walking by one day and saw this and said, ‘The sound they’re making is so exciting, let’s not cut them off. So the trademark of the show became that when we came on the air, there was crowd noise. That was because of Don."

The Price Is Right shifted to ABC in 1963, and he joined Merv Griffin’s new Jeopardy at NBC a year later. He remained with that quiz show for 11 years, missing only one broadcast out of more than the 2,700 that were produced. There, Jeopardy host Art Fleming introduced the pop-culture catchphrase, “Don Pardo, tell her what she’s won!”

Pardo also worked on the TV variety shows All Star Revue, Caesar’s Hour, The Colgate Comedy Hour and The Jonathan Winters Show; the soap operas Follow Your Heart, Three Steps to Heaven and Search for Tomorrow; the series Dream On, Oz, The Simpsons and 30 Rock; the films Radio Days (1987) and Stay Tuned (1992); many TV commercials and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades; and WNBC-TV’s groundbreaking Live at Five afternoon news program.

Oh, and one more: Listen and watch Pardo perform in the music video for “Weird Al” Yankovic’s 1984 song parody, "I Lost on Jeopardy," below:

Twitter: @mikebarnes4

 

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