?The ’80s were the golden age for cartoon voice actors. With the huge amount of Saturday morning cartoons and the rise of cable and after-school syndicated cartoons, shows needed every voice they could get. There was enough demand to support dedicated voice over actors like Frank Welker (whose roles included The Real Ghostbusters‘ Ray Stanz, Inspector Gadget‘s Doctor Claw, Transformers‘ Megatron and freakin’ Darkseid in Super Friends) or Michael Bell (Super Friends‘ Zan, Transformers‘ Prowl, G.I. Joe‘s Duke and Sven the doomed and overly Swedish Voltron pilot), while still having room for tons of regular actors just looking for to support themselves while their careers started. It was quick, easy money and a lot of actors that you’ve seen in other ’80s shows and movies — or saw later, when they were more famous — took advantage. Here are the nine that surprised us the most.
9) Earl Boen
Earl Boen is one of those character actors that you’ve seen a thousand times, but will probably go your entire life without learning his name. He’s best “known” for playing the Michael-Biehn-doubting psychiatrist in The Terminator (since he showed up again in Terminator 2, it looks like he was the only cop to escape Arnie’s police station massacre). Weirdly, his best known cartoon role is Taurus, the circus acrobat with “a few loose bats in his big top” from G.I. Joe: The Movie. Taurus never showed up in the TV series, presumably because the writers couldn’t find a way to incorporate a mentally disturbed circus geek into their plotlines.
8) Roger C. Carmel
The impressively mustachioed Roger C. Carmel is best known for playing the annoying-space-hobo-con-man Harry Mudd on the original Star Trek, although he also performed in just about every TV series ever since he started acting way back in 1958. But all we nerds care about is that he ended up playing a bunch of Transformers, including Galvatron’s right-hand robot Cyclonus, Bruticus, Motormaster, the TV version of Unicron and one of those psychopathic five-sided robot judges The Quintessons (specifically, whichever one was Quintesson #2). Sadly, Carmel died of cancer in November 1986, meaning Cyclonus had to be voiced by Transformers vet Jack Angel for the last few episodes of Transformers and they had to rewrite Carmel’s planned reappearance as Harry Mudd on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He, along with his mustache, will be sadly missed.
7) Brad Garrett
Yep, the lumbering giant that played Ray Romano’s brother on Everybody Loves Raymond also played the lumbering giant city-that-transforms-into-an-awkward-robot-dinosaur Trypticon on Transformers. Sure he didn’t have a lot of lines, but somehow Garrett was perfectly able to encapsulate the emotional angst of a giant robot T-Rex that screams everything he says. Garrett would later go on to play a ton of cartoon voices (including Bibbo and Lobo on Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League), but Transformers was only his second TV role. His first? Hulk Hogan in Hulk Hogan’s Rock N’ Wrestling. Somehow, the robo-dino seems like a more realistic character.
6) Francois Chau
Years before he played amputee and grainy educational film star Pierre Chang on Lost, Francois Chau also played everyone’s favorite shirtless kung fu soldier, Quick Kick, in G.I. Joe — although admittedly it’s pretty hard to recognize Chang when he’s not using Quick Kick’s weird California/Humphrey Bogart accent. Unlike just about everyone else on this list, it looks like Chau never did any other animated voices. Maybe he just preferred live-action… where his characters get to wear some goddamned shoes.
5) Les Lye
While you may not recognize the name Les Lye, if you watched Nickelodeon in the ’80’s then you’ll definitely recognize him as every adult male character on the Canadian kid’s show You Can’t Do That On Television, including stage manager Ross and disgusting burger chef Barth. On the other hand, you definitely won’t recognize his appearances on The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin, as no one ever watched that show. Lye played big bad Quellor, the masked leader of M.A.V.O., the (we’re not making this up) Monsters and Villains Organization. Did we mention this show was horrible? We’re pretty sure we did.
4) Robert Ridgely
Remember “The Colonel James,” the child-porn-possessing guy that gave Burt Reynolds the money for his dirty movies in Boogie Nights? Or the comical hangmen from Blazing Saddles and Robin Hood: Men In Tights? Well, they were all played Robert Ridgely, character actor and voice artist who also played two very iconic ’80s cartoons: Thundarr the Barbarian and the Strawberry Shortcake-hating Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine peak. Screw Gary Oldman, this guy has the greatest range of any actor in history. Anyone who can play a pornographer, a furry loinclothed barbarian and a berry-obsessed closeted Chef deserves every acting award there is.
3) Brian Tochi
You may recognize Brian Tochi as the Japanese nerd from Revenge of the Nerds movie or the Japanese exchange student in the Police Academy series or the voice of Leonardo in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies, who wasn’t Japanese but still kinda fits the theme. Yep, any time Hollywood or TV needed a stereotypical Japanese character in the ’80s, they went to Brian Tochi (hey, we don’t blame him… he wasn’t writing those scripts). So, it makes sense that when they needed to cast a bionic Japanese kid with occasional mystical powers named “Karate 1” in Bionic 6, they went straight to Tochi. So this one isn’t that surprising… apart from the fact that they actually managed to keep the character from becoming too stereotypical. We’re betting most other ’80s cartoons would’ve have him constantly running around in a samurai outfit, instead of the admittedly pretty garish bionic duds they gave him.
2) Tony Randall
If there’s one actor on this list that you’d think might be too haughty and cultured to voice a cartoon, it’s probably Tony Randall. After all, he’d been a movie star, helmed one of the most-popular sitcoms of all time and spearheaded an attempt to bring back voo-do-de-oh-do music. (Yeah, that didn’t work.) But Randall wasn’t too big to voice the Moochick, a weird little gnome that occasionally provided coherent information for My Little Ponies. When you’re so scatterbrained that you’re less responsible than flying multi-colored ponies, maybe you shouldn’t be giving anyone advice.
1) Phil Hartman
Considering how amazing Phil Hartman was on The Simpsons, it’s not surprising he also did a ton of other cartoons. What’s really surprising is that in the ’80s he got stuck doing “additional voices” jobs on shows like the 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo, The Dukes and Challenge of the GoBots (really, we’re not kidding) instead of getting a chance to shine as a major character. The main exception was the 1986 Dennis The Menace cartoon, where he got to play the next-door neighbor (and potential child murderer) Mr. Wilson, who sounds more than a bit like Hartman’s classic Jack Benny impression. He later went on to do some minor characters for DuckTales, Tale Spin and Darkwing Duck, but we’re haunted by what might have been. Can you imagine how amazing it would’ve been to have a G.I. Joe character with the voice of Lionel Hutz?