Donald Leroy "Don" LaFontaine (August 26, 1940 – September 1, 2008) was an American voice actor who recorded more than 5,000 film trailers and thousands of television advertisements, network promotions, and video game trailers.
He became identified with the phrase "In a world...," used in so many movie trailers that it became a cliché. Widely known in the film industry, the man whose nicknames included "Thunder Throat" and "The Voice of God," became known to a wider audience through commercials for GEICO insurance and the Mega Millions lottery game.
LaFontaine was born on August 26, 1940, in Duluth, Minnesota, to Alfred and Ruby LaFontaine. LaFontaine said his voice cracked at age 13 in mid-sentence, giving him the bass tones that later brought him much fame and success. After graduating from Duluth Central High School in 1958, he enlisted in the United States Army, and worked as a recording engineer for the Army Band and Chorus.
LaFontaine continued to work as a recording engineer after discharge and began working at the National Recording Studios in New York City, where, in 1962, he had the opportunity to work with producer Floyd Peterson on radio spots for Dr. Strangelove. Peterson incorporated many of LaFontaine's ideas for the spots and, in 1963, they went into business together producing advertising exclusively for the movie industry. LaFontaine claimed that this company first came up with many of the famous movie trailer catch phrases, including his own future signature phrase, "in a world..."
While working on the 1964 western Gunfighters of Casa Grande, LaFontaine had to fill in for an unavailable voice actor in order to have something to present to MGM. After MGM bought the spots, LaFontaine began a career as a voiceover artist.
He became the head of Kaleidoscope Films Ltd., a movie trailer production company, before starting his own company, Don LaFontaine Associates, in 1976. Shortly thereafter, he was hired by Paramount to do their trailers, and was eventually promoted to vice president. He decided to get back into trailer work and left Paramount, moving to Los Angeles in 1981. LaFontaine was contacted by an agent who wanted to promote him for voiceover work. Thereafter, LaFontaine worked in voiceovers. At his peak, he voiced about 60 promotions a week, and sometimes as many as 35 in a single day. Once he established himself, most studios were willing to pay a high fee for his service. His income was reportedly in the millions.
LaFontaine often had jobs at a number of different studios each day. With the advent of ISDN technology, LaFontaine eventually built a recording studio in his Hollywood Hills home and began doing his work from home.
LaFontaine lent his distinctive voice to thousands of movie trailers during his career, spanning every genre from every major film studio, including The Cannon Group, for which he voiced one of their logos. For a time, LaFontaine had a near-monopoly on movie trailer voiceovers. Some notable trailers which LaFontaine highlighted in the intro on his official website include: Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Shrek, Friday the 13th, Law and Order and Batman Returns. LaFontaine stated in 2007 that his favorite work in a movie trailer was for the biographical film The Elephant Man, though according to a response to the question on his website, he had several trailers which stood out in his mind, and he didn't like to choose one.
Lafontaine also did announcing for a few WWE Pay Per View events, as well as the "Don't Try This at Home" bumper.
In a 2007 interview, LaFontaine explained the strategy behind his signature catch phrase, "in a world where...":
We have to very rapidly establish the world we are transporting them to. That's very easily done by saying, "In a world where..." You very rapidly set the scene.
LaFontaine also did other voice work, including as the announcer for the newscasts on WCBS-TV New York, from 2000 to 2001. LaFontaine was a recurring guest narrator for clues on the game show Jeopardy! and appeared on NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! on May 14, 2005, where he played "Not My Job" (a game in which famous people have to accurately answer questions totally unrelated to their chosen professions). The prize (for a listener, not the contestant) is "Carl Kasell's voice on your home answering machine." LaFontaine did not win the game, and offered to record the listener's answering machine message himself. LaFontaine once claimed that he enjoyed recording messages like these because it allowed him to be creative in writing unique messages, and said that he would do so for anyone who contacted him if he had the time. By 2007, he found the requests to be too numerous for him to take on, and stopped providing the service.
In 2006, GEICO began an advertising campaign in which actual customers told their own stories of GEICO experiences, accompanied by a celebrity who helped them make the story interesting. LaFontaine was featured as the celebrity in one of these ads which began airing in August 2006. In the commercial, he was introduced as "that announcer guy from the movies," with his name printed on-screen to identify him. He began his telling of the customer's story with his trademark "In a world...." LaFontaine credited the spot as life-changing for having exposed his name and face to a significant audience, noting, "There goes any anonymity I might have had..."
Health and death
On Friday, August 22, 2008, LaFontaine was at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, with a pulmonary embolism and was reported to be in critical condition the following Tuesday. His family made a public appeal for prayers on the Mediabistro.com site. Ten days later, LaFontaine died on September 1, 2008, six days after his 68th birthday, following complications from a pneumothorax. He is buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. His final television voice over role was for the Phineas and Ferb episode "The Chronicles of Meap" in which he said in his final line: "In a world... There, I said it. Happy?" The episode also ended with a short tribute to him, although the iTunes, UK, and Spanish versions of the episode omitted the dedication. His final movie trailer voice-over was for Call + Response, a documentary about global slave trade, for which he donated his talent.
On September 6, 2008, America's Most Wanted showed a visual with a picture of him with words below that said "In Memoriam: Don LaFontaine August 26, 1940 – September 1, 2008." John Walsh had announced, prior to the dedication sign, that LaFontaine—who had been the show's announcer since 1988—had died at the age of 68. On the evening of September 7, 2008, Adult Swim had a bumper that said: Don LaFontaine [1940-2008].
"The Apprentice Scout," an episode of Chowder, is dedicated to LaFontaine. The episode dedicated his memory and said "To Don LaFontaine 1940-2008." Fellow voice-over artist and friend John Leader retired from the voice-over business on September 1, 2008 upon learning of LaFontaine's death.
Satire, parody and other appearances
LaFontaine's voice was used in Family Guy episodes "North by North Quahog," and "Brian Sings and Swings," and The Untold Story version of "Stewie B. Goode," and has been featured in musical tracks. The satirical radio theater group Negativland once made a collage of his fantasy film promotions, complete with background screams, clashing swords and dramatic music.
He was also referenced, with opening clips of his work and several subsequent verbal homages, in the film In a World..., written and directed by Lake Bell. On an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, voiceover artist George Lowe, playing himself, is hired by aliens, because, he says, they couldn't get LaFontaine to do the job.
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14. Phineas and Ferb episode "The Chronicles of Meap" (2009)
15. "Call + Response Trailer".
16. Negativland, Dick Vaughn's Moribund Music