Rich Little: ‘Man of a Thousand Voices’

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Rich Little during his appearance on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast of Johnny Carson in 1973

If you were watching The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson or The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast during the 1970s, there was a strong possibility that you’d be treated to an appearance by Rich Little. The master impersonator was nicknamed “The Man of a Thousand Voices,” not just for the sheer volume of his craft but also for his skill at delivering the tonal quality and mannerisms of his subjects.

Little, born on November 26, 1938, is well known for his spot-on impressions of celebrities.

He was born in Ottawa, Canada and is said to have practiced his skills while wiling away the hours as an usher at a local movie theater. According to his official bio, Little started his “career” at the age of 12 when he answered back to his teachers in their own voices.

After an early career as a radio DJ, he successfully auditioned for a guest spot on CBS’ The Judy Garland Show in 1964. A series of small roles on several popular sitcoms followed including That GirlPetticoat Junction and The Flying Nun.

The decades of practice paid off and Little became a familiar presence on the tube.

No celebrity was beyond Little’s reach. On one of The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, it was actor-comedian Don Rickles’ turn to be skewered.

Watch Little’s routine crack up fellow roast-ers Jack Klugman, Joey Bishop, Telly Savalas and others

Related: Rickles and Sinatra on The Tonight Show

He would soon appear dozens of times on “the Carson show” doing impressions of Hollywood legends and political figures. Little was the program’s guest host a dozen times during Johnny’s frequent days off. One regular subject was President Richard Nixon, particularly during the Watergate era.

By the early ’80s, his long relationship with The Tonight Show had come to an end. In 1985, syndicated columnist Marilyn Beck contacted the show’s longtime producer, Freddie de Cordova, to ask why.

”Rich is the best in his field–but we`ve eliminated the impressionist area from the show,” was the reply. “I think the problem is that the people the imitators imitate are essentially the same they have been, people like Jimmy Stewart and Ronald Reagan–and Johnny’s doing Ronald Reagan himself.”

Apparently there was more to it than that. And Little’s dead-on impersonation of Carson is also said to have struck a nerve with the popular late night host. In 1996, Little portrayed Carson in the 1996 HBO film, The Late Shift.

Nevertheless, on Little’s birthday in 2022, Carson’s social media team posted a clip of a 1973 appearance.

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Little became a U.S. citizen in 2010. He continues to perform regularly in Las Vegas, where he now lives. Tickets are available here.

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6 Comments so far

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  1. RecordSteve
    #1 RecordSteve 28 November, 2019, 15:39

    I start smiling just seeing Rich’s face expressions & anticipating his monolog
    just makes me chuckle before he utters a word! He’s the best!!

    Reply this comment
    • Rick
      Rick 3 July, 2022, 20:55

      I saw him do Raymond burr in the 70’s & first impression I’d ever seen, I was shocked w/glee & hooked to this day. I just watched him do Henry Fonda on the roast …. Amazing, what an impression this man has left on me. Rick

      Reply this comment
  2. Paul thebaron
    #2 Paul thebaron 30 June, 2020, 20:40

    He was the best voice impressionist ever

    Reply this comment
  3. Larry
    #3 Larry 27 November, 2020, 08:47

    There gave been many good, spot-on impressionists working to entertain us all, during my 67 years on this planet. But, Mr. Rich Little has always been THE Very Best of the Best! He never failed to make me laugh uproariously many many times, everytime I watched him perform. The man is just that good, and that funny!
    If anyone connected with his native Canada’s prestigious Order of Canada is reading this, and if Mr. Little has not already been awarded the honour, may I suggest that he be nominated for such award as soon as may be possible? The motto of the Order, translated into English is, “They Desire A Better Country”. Mr. Little desires a better world, and his great humour has helped make this world better. For when we’re laughing, we’re not hating or fighting!
    Larry L. Gillreath
    Gun Barrel City, Texas, USA

    Reply this comment
  4. bradwww
    #4 bradwww 27 November, 2022, 01:48

    saw him 2 months ago in vegas – going great!

    Reply this comment
  5. Jmack
    #5 Jmack 27 November, 2023, 21:36

    Guy is a comic genius…and legend! Absolutely hilarious especially in his 70’s heyday

    Reply this comment

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