Rich Little’s Bio
U.S. Presidents: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, both George Bushes…Rich Little has an impression of each of them.
Infamous for his skewing of political figures, Little has charmed, amused, annoyed and lampooned politicians from here to his native Canada. He entertained at both of Reagan’s presidential inaugurations and spent much of 2003 touring the United States with his show “The Presidents.”
A master mimic of more than 200 voices, Little continues to impress throughout the world, with regular stops in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Reno, Hawaii, Chicago, New York, Canada and London.
A professed classic movie buff, he’s particularly fond of doing Alan Ladd (his childhood hero) and others who are no longer generally remembered, but Little has also latched on to Baby Boomer-friendly characters, such as Edith Bunker, Kermit the Frog, Robin Leach and Dr. Ruth Westheimer, to name a few.
Some of his favorite current impressions are of stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood. “They’re easy to do,” he says. “They are larger than life.
“Little says, “an impression is what you think a person sounds like. It could be an exaggeration or a cartoon. It’s your impression. I think of an impersonation as more of an exact copy. Knowing the person personally is not important; it’s knowing the speech patterns and mannerisms [in order] to imitate the person the way the public sees him.”
It took him seven years to perfect Frank Sinatra, but only several minutes to mimic Dr. Ruth.
The son of a doctor in Ottawa, Little started his “career” at the age of 12 when he answered back to his teachers in their own voices. Observing the teachers in action was infinitely more fun than paying attention to class work. To get dates, he’d find out the girl’s favorite actor, then call her up imitating that actor’s voice. Then when Little showed up, he’d say, “Sorry, Cary [Grant] can’t make it.”
Little’s first appearances were in a small club in Canada. “I got booked into this place in Quebec, and when I started my act, I discovered that no one in the audience understood English. It was strictly a French-speaking audience.” He figured he was dead until an inspiration hit him. “I did walks – Jack Benny’s walk, Bob Hope’s walk, John Wayne’s walk. They all walk the same in French and in English,” he recalls.
Impressions came in handy to Little, while working as a disc jockey and talk show host. During one April Fool’s Day marathon, he had “Jimmy Durante” emcee the morning show, “James Mason” was a rock ‘n’ roll deejay and “Elvis Presley” hosted an afternoon program. Like the infamous 1939 broadcast of “War of the Worlds,” 500 autograph-hungry Elvis-believing fans besieged the station, thinking the King was really there.
Still in his early 20s, Little was discovered while working in the United States. His friend, singer Mel Torme, then on the musical team of CBS network’s The Judy Garland Show, asked him to make a tape. Instead of the usual impressions, Little did Fred MacMurray, Dana Andrews, James Mason and Van Heflin, ‘the kinds of people nobody did.’ Garland thought it was great and Little was signed to the show.
Appearances on TV variety shows starring Ed Sullivan, Jackie Gleason, Glen Campbell and Dean Martin followed, as well as on series such as Laugh-In, The John Davidson Summer Show and The Julie Andrews Show. Little also had his own variety show in the 70s and was the star of the TV show KopyKats. Little was a guest host early on for The Tonight Show, hosting 12 times. He quickly became a household name sitting in one of the Hollywood Squares and has also appeared on the Oak Ridge Boys Variety Special.
Named “Comedy Star of the Year” by the American Guild of Variety Artists. The perpetrator of nine comedy albums and three HBO comedy specials, as well as Emmy-award winning special “Rich Little’s Christmas Carol” with “W.C. Fields” as Scrooge, “Humphrey Bogart” as one of the ghosts and “Paul Lynde” as Bob Cratchit.
His latest appearance on HBO was as Johnny Carson in the movie The Late Shift, which dealt with the race to succeed Carson on The Tonight Show. Little has appeared on the daytime soaps The Young and the Restless and Santa Barbara. He has made dramatic guest shots on Fantasy Island, Chips, Murder She Wrote, Hawaii Five-O, MacGyver, Police Woman and Mannix.
In a GQ magazine fashion spread, Little was pictured as Richard Nixon, Jack Nicholson, Cary Grant, George Burns, Ronald Reagan and Humphrey Bogart. In an Oscar pre-cast of ABC’s Primetime (with Diane Sawyer and Sam Donaldson) he spoofed classic movies, proposing how they would end with different casts, starring Little as “Bette Midler” for Scarlett O’Hara and “Arnold Schwarzenegger” for Hamlet.
Little’s expert impressions have also been used seriously, such as the time he stepped in for stars who were unable to do their own redubbings on soundtracks. David Niven’s vocal cords were gone due to illness in his last film, Curse of the Pink Panther; Peter Sellers himself was gone by the end of The Trail of the Pink Panther; so Little provided both voices for these films. The TV series Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer needed voice-over narrations on three shows, but star Stacey Keach was unable to finish them. Little was called in to finish the job. He also did Gene Kelly for a Christmas special when Kelly lost his voice.
His greatest fear? A sore throat. “Other people get a cold, and they just get a cold. I get a cold and John Wayne gets a cold, Orson Welles gets a cold, Nixon gets a cold, Truman Capote gets a cold. No correction – Truman gets the sniffles. I get a cold and it’s all over.”
Over the years Little has been active with children’s charities and he was co-host of the Canadian division of the Children’s Miracle Network. He was inducted into the Miami Children’s Hospital International Pediatrics Hall of Fame for his tireless efforts in fundraising on behalf of children. In June 1998, Little’s star was added to the Canadian Walk of Fame to go along with his current star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In January 2010, Little became a U.S. citizen where he can now vote for those politicos who he mimics so well. Unfortunately, his wife and love Marie, passed away later that year. He proudly has two daughters who also live in the U.S. although not in Las Vegas where he resides, and he has a beautiful granddaughter, Alaina.