He’s never caused one of those exasperated moments where you snap your fingers and think, “Where do I know this voice from?”
When James Earl Jones speaks, everyone knows. And listens.
His booming basso profundo has narrated television networks, given lions life and scared a fictional galaxy. Here are just a few of his most memorable audible moments.
You know how they say someone’s voice is so beautiful, you could listen to them read the phone book? James Earl Jones does it one better, entrancing a generation of children by simply reciting the alphabet. Used as part of a test pilot for the still popular show, Jones’s slow and purposeful speech has been credited with enhancing children’s educational interactions with the program. Producers coined it “the James Earl Jones effect.” (Really! It’s a thing.)
The “Star Wars” franchise
A villain for the ages, Darth Vader terrified viewers in the original 1977 film, the two sequels and the 2005 prequel. Uncredited for the first two movies, Jones has said: “I’m happy to have been special effects. That’s all I was.” Ironically, creator George Lucas originally cast Jones because of his “unrecognizable” voice — a voice that has now become one of the most memorable facets of the series. “He wanted to use Orson Welles,” Jones said, “but he thought Orson might be too recognizable, so he picked a guy who was born in Mississippi and raised in Michigan who stutters.”
“Field of Dreams”
“People will come, Ray.” And with that, baseball fans around the world dreamed of building diamonds in their back yards. And, more realistically, they learned that following your dreams can be worth it, even if everyone else thinks you’re nuts. Everything sounds a little more plausible when it comes out of James Earl Jones’s mouth.
“The Lion King”
Yes, it’s a Disney movie. Yes, it’s about the animal kingdom. And yes, adults and children around the world wept watching a young Simba hover over Mufasa’s body in confusion whispering “Dad?” after his father’s tragic death. Whether he was extolling his wisdom or scolding his subjects, Jones’s authoritative voice carried Mufasa’s powerful weight, allowing the audience to sit in awe of a leader who inspired fear in villains and hope in his son. (And also made said death scene really, really sad.)
Recorded in 1990, the “This is CNN” soundbite has been used on and off for more than two decades on the 24/7 news channel. Jones’s trusty basso profundo has nearly become synonymous with the network itself, inspiring famous imitations and, clearly, no duplications.
Jones is back on Broadway this month in “You Can’t Take it With You,” but if you can’t make the trip, just turn on your TV and, odds are, his voice will be there.