RIP: Don Pardo, timeless SNL announcer, dead at 96

RIP: Don Pardo, timeless SNL announcer, dead at 96

Screen shot of SNL program celebrating Don Pardo's 90th birthday.
Screen shot of SNL program celebrating Don Pardo's 90th birthday. Don Pardo, center. Tina Fey to your left, Steve Martin to your right. (NBC) *

TUCSON, Ariz., August 19, 2014 – Don Pardo, the longtime NBC TV announcer who nearly found eternal life as “Saturday Night Live’s” once and future background voice, passed away quietly in Tucson, Arizona Monday, August 18. He was 96. His daughter, Paula, confirmed his passing to CBS radio news yesterday.

Pardo turned his modest career as NBC’s go-to staff announcer into a surprising series of milestones, becoming one of few in his line of work to achieve public recognition for his consistent work over the years. He

His likeable, highly-recognizable voice cut through both the radio and the TV chatter and added character and pizazz to virtually any show he was associated with as he introduced or narrated nearly anything from commercials to game shows to radio and TV news shows and sporting events.

Those listening carefully to TV news excerpts announcing JFK’s assassination in 1963 will readily recognize Pardo’s voice delivering that astonishing and tragic news on NBC TV clips.

“Deadline Hollywood” notes “On the original version of Jeopardy!, host Art Fleming would start the show with ‘Thank you, Don Pardo’ and tease winners with, ‘Don Pardo, tell him what he’s won!’ His game show credits also include The Price Is Right, Jackpot and Three On A Match. In 1984, he was introduced to the MTV Generation with a memorable voice cameo on ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’s parody song ‘I Lost On Jeopardy.’

Pardo’s long career started out on the radio waves during the Second World War during which he worked for NBC radio as one of their war correspondents. After the war, he also contributed his talents to radio sci-fi dramas like “X Minus One” and “Dimension X” and sometimes did play-by-play or color for radio baseball broadcasts.

Like many in the business, he gradually moved to television when the new medium began to take hold in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Unlike many in the industry, however, he remained with his original network for his entire career, even returning to NBC for periodic gigs long after his retirement.

“Deadline Hollywood” observes that as “a member of the Television Academy Hall of Fame,” Don Pardo and Bob Hope are still “the only people ever awarded a lifetime contract at NBC.”

Arguably, Pardo’s greatest claim to fame—or at least the gig that gave him his most prominent exposure, was his longtime association with the ever-changing lineup of crazy kids half his age known as NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”

From Day One, Pardo opened and occasionally provided narration for each and every SNL show, with rare exceptions, dating from the program’s live debut in October, 1975 until last season’s finale. Often parodied but never equaled, he trilled that famous opening line each week, usually after a madcap opening skit: “LIVE, from NEW YORK, it’s SAT-ur-DAY NIGHT!”

Only on two occasions did Pardo ever go MIA from SNL. He skipped the show’s seventh season (1981-1982) when longtime series creator Lorne Michaels briefly departed before being quickly called back to revive the flagging show. Much later, he was sidelined from two SNL shows in 2013 by a broken hip.

Pardo had actually retired from NBC in 2004, but stuck with SNL nonetheless. After moving from the New York area to the much sunnier Tucson, he tried to cut back. But Michaels and NBC wanted him to stick with SNL as long as he could, so they arranged to fly him to the Big Apple each weekend to announce each live show during the regular season.

The fact that Pardo was still a fixture on SNL at the age of 95 was, in a way, an amazing tribute to Pardo, whose continuing, successful backgrounding of an SNL cast—members of whom by now were young enough to be his great-grandchildren—utterly defied the usual clichés about age, ability, and timelessness.

When “Deadline Hollywood” interviewed Lorne Michaels recently, they asked him about Pardo’s legendarily long years of service on SNL, and he answered the question by making a comparison. “My lighting director, Phil Hyms is 91,” said Michaels, “he’s out there every night for the warm-up, and he’s not lost a step…. So, maybe there’s something healthy in the studio. I don’t think it’s Shangri-La, but maybe there’s something.”

The upcoming season will coincide with SNL’s 40th anniversary. At some point in 2015, Michaels and the show’s cast will likely celebrate not only that significant anniversary in a medium that’s still distinguished by the mid-season cancellations of brand new series. But they’ll almost certainly do an audio-video montage of Don Pardo’s long career at NBC and on the show as well.

*Note: We’d have included the YouTube video of Don Pardo’s 90th birthday celebration on SNL here. But the embed code is not currently being made available. So here’s the link if you’re interested:

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Terry Ponick
Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17