From the late 1970s to the early 2000s, Mark Elliott was the face of Disney movie trailers, television promos, and home video titles is no more. He was 81 years old.
Elliott died Saturday in a Los Angeles hospital after suffering two heart attacks, according to Charlie Van Dyke, a friend and fellow voiceover artist. He was still fighting lung cancer. “He was one of a kind … and kind is a great word to describe him,” Van Dyke said.
Elliott was a well-known radio DJ who went on to become one of Hollywood’s top voiceover artists. During the 1980s and 1990s, he could be heard on a slew of movie trailers and promos for both CBS and Fox, but it was his warm and comforting Midwestern tone promoting Disney products that made him famous to millions around the world.
Joe Cipriano, a fellow voiceover artist, said Elliott taught him “two things about promos — never take a holiday and never purchase a home based on voiceover revenue” in a Facebook update.
Elliott began his professional career in 1957 as a disc jockey on commercial radio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he was born on September 24, 1939. He ended up in Los Angeles in 1970 for the first of two stints at KHJ, with a short stint at KISS sandwiched in between, after working at various stations in Iowa, Ohio, Ontario, and San Francisco (where he was given the radio name Mark Elliott for the first time).
Elliott started doing voiceovers in 1977, following a 20-year radio career. His first paying job was doing the voiceover for the Smokey and the Bandit trailer, and he went on to do the radio voiceovers for George Lucas’ Star Wars and the rom-com The Goodbye Girl. All three films went on to become box office hits and cultural landmarks, propelling Elliott from relative obscurity to the most sought-after voiceover talent in Hollywood.
Elliott talked to VO Buzz Weekly in 2015 about obtaining the Star Wars contract, working for free at first, and Lucas’ indecision about the sound of the promos. “While we’re working on [Smokey and the Bandit, the voiceover studio] came to me and they said, ‘We got this director who’s making us nuts, just driving us crazy. He can’t decide how he wants to promote [his movie], if you’ll work with us on spec when he makes his mind up on what he wants, we’ll see that you get a big piece of the action.’
“I said OK, so we started working seven days a week trying to do it, and he couldn’t decide whether he wanted a comedy, whether he wanted an adventure, whether he wanted it dark, whether he wanted it light, whether he wanted romance. He just couldn’t decide.”
Elliott rose to popularity as a leading voiceover artist rapidly, and he credits much of his success to his radio experience. “Radio is a great background because it gave you a sense of time,” he said. “If you had seven seconds at the beginning of a song to talk it up, you learned to know what seven seconds were.”