For many voice actors, their characters are their life. It’s rare, though, that those words become more than a turn of phrase. That’s what makes the story of Bugs Bunny and Mel Blanc so amazing.
Bugs Bunny literally did save Mel Blanc’s life.
Melvin Jerome Blanc, known throughout his professional and personal lives as Mel Blanc, is one the true legends of carton voice acting.
He was active from 1937 until his death in 1989. Although Mel worked for several famous studios, including Hanna-Berbera and MGM, much of his career was spent with Warner Brothers.
At WB, Blanc voiced practically every Looney Tunes character you can name. He wasn’t just Bugs Bunny, he was also Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn, Tweety, Sylvester, and more.
He was known as the “Man of the Thousand Voices”, and it’s easy to see why.
Blanc became wealthy as a voice actor, and rightly so. He worked incessantly, and was known to perform on multiple cartoons and radio shows each day.
On January 24th, 1961, he was near the end of one particularly busy day. He had woken up early that morning in his Los Angeles home, driven his Aston Martin to the airport, and flown to San Francisco.
There, he did voice work for several commercials, and flown home again. After a brief dinner with his wife, he hopped back in the car to drive to another recording session in LA.
He never made it to that session. As he was driving around an intersection known locally as Dead Man’s Curve, his car was struck by an Oldsmobile driven by an 18-year-old college student. Mel suffered a triple skull fracture along with numerous other broken bones, and was left in a coma.
For two weeks, Blanc lay unconscious in his hospital bed. His wife and son, friends, and numerous doctors visited frequently and spoke to him, but he was completely unresponsive.
Until one neurologist had a unique idea. It’s well-known that coma patients are often able to hear sounds and voices around them, but are unable to respond.
The neurologist decided that if Mel couldn’t respond, maybe someone else could. The doctor walked up to the hospital and said, “How are you feeling today, Bugs Bunny?”
“Eh… just fine, Doc. How are you?” came the response, almost immediately.
Startled but heartened that Mel, or at least the voices in his head, were responsive at least, the doctor continued.
“Tweety, are you here, too?”
“I tot I taw a puddy tat!”
It seems that his characters were so ingrained into his mind that he was able to communicate through them, even while in a coma.
Before long, Blanc regained full consciousness and began to recover.
During his weeks of recovery, Mel’s son Noel covered for him in several recording sessions. Fellow voice acting luminary Daws Butler also contributed, voicing Barney Rubble in a few episodes of The Flintstones.
Blanc was a true workaholic, though, and before long he convinced The Flintstones producers to send recording equipment to his hospital room. Later that year, he performed on The Jack Benny Program, using crutches and a wheelchair.
Mel’s incredible talent and dedicated to his art helped to pave the way for countless actors to come. He was the first voice actor to be credited on screen, given the same recognition as live-action actors.
The voices he created are timeless, emulated not only in later generations of Looney Tunes, but referenced in countless other characters across all media.
Mel lived another 30 years until succumbing to coronary artery disease in 1989. He is survived by his son Noel Blanc, and his legacy will likely live forever.
Some information for this article was taken from the episode of Radiolab entitled “What’s Up, Doc?”, embedded below.