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June 1, 2005

Mellomen member and voice of Tony the Tiger dies

Thurl Ravenscroft, founding member of the vocal group The Mellomen, died Sunday, May 22 at the age of 91. The singer and voice actor died of prostrate cancer, Diane Challis Davy, director of Laguna Beach's Pageant of the Masters, tells the AP. Although Ravenscroft provided numerous voices for films and the Disneyland theme park, his pitch for Frosted Flakes cereal made "They're grrrrreeeat!" a catchphrase indelibly tied to the affable tiger. "I'm the only man in the world that has made a career with one word: Grrrrreeeat!" says Ravenscroft in a 1996 interview. "When Kellogg's brought up the idea of the tiger, they sent me a caricature of Tony to see if I could create something for them. After messing around for some time I came up with the 'Grrrrreeeat!' roar, and that's how it's been since then."

Thurl Arthur Ravenscroft was born February 6, 1914 in Norfolk, Nebraska and later moved to California to study interior design, but then left art school after becoming a studio singer. During the '30s, he worked regularly in radio, singing backup for Bing Crosby on "The Kraft Music Hall" show. He joined a quartet called the Sportsmen, but left to enter military service during World War II. Upon his return, he and former Sportsmen member Max Smith formed the Mellomen, a versatile singing group that performed backup vocals and in radio, TV and film. They worked with the likes of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney.

Ravenscroft sang and did voiceover work in films such as "Cinderella," "Alice in Wonderland," "The Glenn Miller Story," "Lady and the Tramp," "South Pacific," "Sleeping Beauty," "Mary Poppins" and "The Jungle Book." It was his commercial work with the Mellomen for Kellogg's cereals that landed him the plum role of Tony the Tiger in 1952.

His rumbling voice can also be heard singing "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" for the Dr.Seuss/Chuck Jones television special of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." "That was my chance to prove I could really sing," said Ravenscroft. He went on to collaborate on other Dr. Seuss projects such as "Horton Hears a Who," "The Cat in the Hat" and "The Lorax."

For decades, he narrated the Pageant of the Masters at the Laguna Beach Arts Festival and can still be heard today in several Disneyland theme park attractions: singing "Grim Grinning Ghosts" in the Haunted Mansion, as Fritz the parrot in the Tiki Room, as Buff the buffalo in the Country Bear Jamboree, as the first mate on the Mark Twain riverboat and one of the bass voices in the chorus of "It's a Small World." "Disneyland wouldn't have been, and wouldn't be, the same without him," says former Disneyland president Jack Lindquist. "His voice was one of the things that made it all come alive." Ravenscroft is survived by his children Nancy and Ron and four.

Posted by acapnews at June 1, 2005 12:18 AM