Don LaFontaine, who voiced trailers, dies

Originated the catchphrase 'In a world where ...'

Don LaFontaine, the undisputed viceroy of voiceovers, died Monday of complications from the treatment of an ongoing lung-related illness. He was 68.

Before his death, he had provided voiceovers for an estimated 5,000 movie trailers, including "Batman Returns," "The Terminator," "Cast Away," "The Elephant Man" and "Dr. Strangelove." Many of those began with his catchphrase, "In a world where ..."

The world LaFontaine inhabited was one where his voice was hugely familiar, though his name was not. But in that world, he was king. "He basically changed and reinvented the narrative and presentation sound of a trailer," voice artist George DelHoyo said. "It used to be more of giving names of who was in the film. He gave it urgency, importance, intelligence and a point of view."

Added SAG president Alan Rosenberg: "Don was a phenomenal actor and a prodigious and amazing voice talent who could, like the best voice artists, make any material uniquely his own. His contributions on and off 'mike' enriched the profession and the guild. He will be greatly missed by all of us."

LaFontaine and his deep, dramatic vocal cords were in demand for commercials as well as movie trailers. He lent his voice to spots for Chevrolet, Pontiac, Ford, Budweiser, McDonald's and Coke, among others. In one series of spots for Geico Insurance in 2006, he even parodied his trademark style. He played himself telling a customer, "In a world where both of our cars were totally under water ... "

LaFontaine also enjoyed success with voiceovers on TV. He was heard on "Entertainment Tonight" and "The Insider" and used by ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, UPN, TNT, TBS and the Cartoon Network. He also was an in-studio announcer for the Academy Awards and the SAG Awards. In fact, based on signed contracts, he might hold the record for the most prolific actor in SAG history.

LaFontaine was presented with a lifetime achievement honor at The Hollywood Reporter's 34th annual Key Art Awards in 2005.

In an interview last year, he noted the strategy behind his catchphrase.

"We have to very rapidly establish the world we are transporting them to," he said. "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."

LaFontaine noted the long history of his illness in an Aug. 11 post on the SAGWatch blog, blaming 30 years of on-and-off smoking, though he quit 20 years ago. Nonetheless, he was optimistic about his recovery.

"There are still a few miles to go before I'm back to 100%," he wrote. "But that, I can assure, is going to happen."

LaFontaine insisted he never cared that no one knew his name or his face, though everyone knew his voice.

The voice that America came to know in movie houses and on television developed at age 13, when LaFontaine's prepubescent squeak began to grow deeper.

He went on to work in the promo industry during its infancy in the early 1960s. As an audio engineer, he produced radio spots for movies with producer Floyd Peterson.

When an announcer didn't show up for a recording session in 1965, LaFontaine voiced his first narration, a promo for the film "Gunfighters of Casa Grande." The client, MGM, liked his performance.

He remained active until recently, averaging seven to 10 voiceover sessions a day.

LaFontaine is survived by his wife, singer-actress Nita Whitaker, and three daughters.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.