Mark Elliott, the ubiquitous voice of Disney movie trailers, television promos and home video titles from the late 1970s to the early 2000s, has died. He was 81.
Elliott died Saturday in a Los Angeles hospital after suffering two heart attacks, friend and fellow voiceover artist Charlie Van Dyke told The Hollywood Reporter. He also was battling lung cancer. “He was one of a kind … and kind is a great word to describe him,” Van Dyke said.
A well-known radio DJ who became one of Hollywood’s premier voiceover artists, Elliott was heard on a slew of movie trailers and promos for both CBS and Fox during the 1980s and ’90s, but it was his warm and comforting Midwestern tone promoting Disney products that made him familiar to millions around the world.
Another fellow voiceover artist, Joe Cipriano, said in a Facebook post that Elliott taught him “two things about promos — never take a vacation and never buy a home based on voiceover income.”
Born John Harrison Frick Jr. in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Sept. 24, 1939, Elliott started his professional career as a disc jockey on commercial radio in his hometown in 1957. After working at various stations in Iowa, Ohio, Ontario and San Francisco (where he was given the radio name Mark Elliott for the first time), he ended up in Los Angeles in 1970 for the first of two stints at KHJ, with a brief period working at KISS sandwiched in between.
After 20 years in radio, Elliott branched out into voiceovers in 1977. His first paid work was the voiceover on the trailer for Smokey and the Bandit, and from there he scored the radio voiceover for George Lucas’ Star Wars and the rom-com The Goodbye Girl. All three movies would all go on to become blockbusters and culturally important movies, catapulting Elliott from a complete unknown to the most sought-after voiceover talent in Hollywood.
Speaking to VO Buzz Weekly in 2015, Elliott spoke about securing the Star Wars work, initially working for free, and Lucas’ indecision on what the promos should sound like. “While we’re working on [Smokey and the Bandit, the voiceover studio] came to me and they said, ‘We got this director who’s making us nuts, just driving us crazy. He can’t decide how he wants to promote [his movie], if you’ll work with us on spec, when he makes his mind up on what he wants, we’ll see that you get a big piece of the action.’
“I said OK, so we started working literally seven days a week trying to do it, and he couldn’t decide whether he wanted a comedy, whether he wanted an adventure, whether he wanted it dark, whether he wanted it light, whether he wanted romance. He just couldn’t decide.”
Elliott quickly established himself as a leading voiceover talent, and he put a lot of his rapid success down to his experience in radio. “Radio is a great background because it gave you a sense of time,” he said. “If you had seven seconds at the beginning of a song to talk it up, you learned to know what seven seconds were.”
In 1977, Disney’s in-house trailer producer Craig Murray hired Elliott to provide the voiceover for Disney’s theatrical rerelease of Cinderella (1950), beginning an association that would last well into the 2000s, define his career and cast him as the voice of the company for many millions of children and their parents alike. He would voice theatrical trailers, provide narration for the anthology series The Magical World of Disney and provide voiceovers for previews and bumpers on home entertainment releases, his voice indelibly linked with the phrases “and now our feature presentation” and “experience the magic.”
“You think about decisions that were made and paths that were chosen and all that sort of thing, and [working for Disney] for me is the defining moment in my life, not just my career but in my life. Because it did is give me this identity which … continues to this day,” he said.
He added: “[Being the voice of Disney] is a wonderful touchstone for my career. If that’s the identity that I carry with me for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Outside of Disney, Elliott also provided the voiceover on trailers for several movies in the Muppets franchise.
On the film and television work he’s most proud of, Elliott picked the trailer for the inspirational 1981 British sports film Chariots of Fire, which would go on to win four Academy Awards, and the promos for the 256th and final episode of CBS’ M*A*S*H, one of the most watched broadcasts in television history. “Chariots of Fire, it was totally out of character for me. And the promo that I did that I am most proud of was for the last episode of M*A*S*H, which was a heart-tugging but still comedic sort of read.”
In 1997, Elliott and such other voiceover legends as Don LaFontaine, Nick Tate, John Leader and Al Chalk appeared in the short 5 Men and a Limo, a sketch originally shown as part of The Hollywood Reporter‘s Key Art Awards.
In 2013, he starred in Lake Bell’s comedy film In a World …, which was set in the world of Hollywood voiceover artists. The film, which won the best screenplay prize at Sundance, featured Elliott, Marc Graue and Joe Cipriano playing themselves.
Mike Barnes contributed to this report.