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Iconic ‘Animaniacs’ voice actor Rob Paulsen on cancer, Seattle concert

Actors Sean Astin and Rob Paulsen pose for a photo at Nickelodeon during Comic-Con on Friday, July 13, 2012, in San Diego, Calif. (Photo by Joe Kohen/Invision for Nickelodeon/AP Images)

You may not know Rob Paulsen by his name, but if you grew up watching cartoons in the ’80s and ’90s like I did, you definitely know his voice.

For 35 years, Rob has talked and sang his way into the homes and hearts of children and adults on shows like: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; GI Joe; Rick and Morty; Transformers; Duck Tails; Spongebob; Tiny Tunes; The Tick; Jimmy Neutron; VeggieTales; Powerpuff Girls; Teen Titans, and so many more.

Seriously, this guy’s IMDB page is a mile long. He even shows up one scene during Mel Brooks’s “Spaceballs,”as one of those “combing the desert” guys. But there’s one show most consider his crown jewel: Steven Spielberg’s “Animaniacs.”

The animated show won a Peabody and multiple Emmys. It had the very best writers, animators, musicians, and actors. And Rob played a whole handful of characters like Pinky in “Pinky and the Brain” or Yakko, who’s song “Yakko’s World” is perhaps Rob’s most memorable performance. He rattles off the names of every country in the world to the tune of the Mexican Hat Dance. It’s something Rob can still spit out at a the drop of a, well, hat. He recorded the entire song in just a single take, by the way.

“Animaniacs” turns 25 this year and in 2020 a two-season reboot is coming to Hulu. Although Rob will return to voice his beloved characters, something happened a few years ago that put his livelihood, and his life, in jeopardy.

A voice actor facing cancer

In February 2019, it will have been three years since Paulsen was diagnosed with stage three throat cancer.

“I’m not a smoker, I’m a pretty healthy guy, I’ve always been an athlete and all of that, it was just my turn in the cage” he said. “…as they say in a less gentrified manner, ‘stuff happens.'”

“There’s that old adage that ‘We make plans and God laughs,'” Paulsen said of being a voice actor with throat cancer. “I totally get it. I kind of went, ‘OK, there’s a fun, little cosmic left-hander here.’ Honestly, never once did I say, ‘why me’ or ‘poor me’ … not because I’m heroic or an extra tough guy. I got diagnosed at 60 years old. I don’t know of too many people who can check out at 60 years old who have had the career I’ve had. There is no way to adequately express my gratitude for what I’ve already been able to do in my life. So I’ve got nothing to complain about.”

Rob says one of the things that keeps him going is the connection he has with families who have lost their children to cancer.

“That — in the context of what I was facing — was far, far more difficult,” “Being able to keep in touch with those people who are beyond courageous. Who, the day after they bury their children after a year in the hospital, they put on their pants and go to work. Are you kidding me? I never had to deal with that.”

Today, Rob is now cancer free. And he’s not just surviving – he’s thriving. He’s back performing voices, and is even on a singing tour.

“To the extent that my experience can be helpful or inspiration to someone else, I really, really hope that is the case,” Paulsen said. “Because I’ve certainly had many people inspire me.”

He is coming to Seattle with a show called “Animaniacs in Concert.” He will perform with Randy Rogel, the Emmy-winning composer from the show, with songs, voices, animation, and lots of fun behind-the-scenes stories.

You can catch the show at the Fremont Abbey on Friday, Jan 11.


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