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New York — Few would recognize his face, but most knew his voice: the booming baritone that for nearly four decades heralded “Saturday Night Live.”
Don Pardo, the eras-spanning radio and TV announcer whose resonant voice-over style was celebrated for its majesty and power, died Monday in Arizona at the age of 96.
“He became our link to the beginnings of television on NBC — and radio,” said Lorne Michaels, who, as creator of “SNL” (and who remains its executive producer) hired Pardo.
Pardo’s strong jaw and leading-man smile were seldom on display, but for more than 60 years his elegant pipes graced newscasts, game shows (during the original run of “Jeopardy!,” its emcee ritually called on him to “Tell ’em what they’ve won, Don Pardo”) and especially “SNL,” where he played an integral role through last season, heralding the lineup, like always, as recently as the May finale.
“There was no greater thrill than hearing Don Pardo bellow your name for the first time in the opening credits of ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ” said longtime cast member Tina Fey. “It meant you were officially ‘on television.’ ”
Fey described Pardo as “a sweet, sweet man,” adding, “Late night will never sound as cool again.”
“My whole life changed once Don Pardo said my name,” echoed Amy Poehler, a fellow “SNL” alum. “I will really miss that kind and talented man.”
His was no ordinary voice and he guarded it closely, with cough drops always at the ready.
“My voice is my Achilles’ heel,” Pardo said in a 1985 interview with The Associated Press. “When I get sick, it’s always my voice.” But it served him well from a tender age.
Dominick George Pardo was born in Westfield, Mass., on Feb. 22, 1918, and grew up in Norwich.
One of his first jobs was that of ticket-taker at a local movie theater; even then, his voice was commanding.
“I’d go out there with a cape and say: ‘Standing room only in the mezzanine. Immediate seating in the balcony.’ ”
His father, Dominick, owned a small bakery and had wanted his son to join the business. But young Pardo followed his own dream. After graduating from Boston’s Emerson College in 1942, he began his vocal career at radio station WJAR in Providence.
Two years later, he was hired by a supervisor at NBC immediately upon hearing his voice. He moved to NBC’s New York affiliate, and never left the network.
Pardo made his mark quickly, reading news dispatches on the radio filed from the front lines during World War II. After the war, he was the announcer for such shows as the “Arthur Murray Party,” “Colgate Comedy Hour” and “Your Show of Shows.”
In 1954, he was brought in to announce “Winner Takes All,” beginning a long run in game shows. He was heard forcefully on the original “The Price is Right” (1956-63) and the original “Jeopardy!” (1964-75), hosted by Art Fleming.
When NBC launched the radical, cutting-edge “Saturday Night Live” in 1975 with Pardo as its charmingly old-school patriarch, he was discovered by a new generation — although, on opening night, he made a rare stumble, botching one of the credits. Instead of saying “The Not Ready for Prime Time Players,” Pardo introduced the show’s new comedy troupe as “The Not for Ready Prime Time Players.”
Aside from Season 7, when he was rudely displaced, Pardo remained an “SNL” mainstay.
Between working on shows, Pardo often spent several hours a day in an NBC sound studio as one of the last network “booth announcers” working a regular daily shift.
And every weekday afternoon for several years in the 1980s, Pardo would quickly clad himself in a tie and blazer to step on camera long enough to announce the local New York station’s “Live at Five” newscast — although Pardo’s vocal alchemy rendered it as “Liiiiiiive at Fiiiiiive!”
Pardo retired from NBC in 2004.
“But Lorne Michaels called me soon after and asked if I would continue for three more weeks, so I did,” Pardo told the AP in 2010. “Then he called and asked if I would do five more, and so on. I never really left.”
For several years, Pardo commuted from Tucson each week the show aired. He arrived to open the show in Rockefeller Center’s fabled Studio 8H and then caught a returning flight. At the end of the show on Feb. 23, 2008, he was brought on camera to blow out the candles of a birthday cake in honor of his 90th birthday.
In later years, he more often recorded his introductions from home, where he died peacefully Monday afternoon, said his daughter Dona Pardo.
Pardo appeared in several movies, mostly as himself or an announcer like himself, including Woody Allen’s “Radio Days,” an homage to the Golden Age of broadcasting. He also made a guest appearance on Frank Zappa’s 1978 album, “Zappa in New York,” and “Weird Al” Yankovic’s 1984 album, “In 3-D.”
In 2010, he was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ Hall of Fame.
Pardo is survived by five children.