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By Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times

Don Pardo, the legendary NBC announcer whose deep, resonant voice was heard for more than three decades on “Saturday Night Live,” has died. He was 96.

Pardo died Monday evening, according to NBC spokesman Rich Licata. The cause was not given, but Pardo reportedly broke a hip last year.

After launching his broadcasting career at a small radio station in Providence, R.I., Pardo began his six-decade tenure as a staff announcer at NBC in New York City in 1944.

He was an announcer for radio shows such as “Front Page Farrell” and “Pepper Young’s Family” before moving into the new medium of television, where he was an announcer for shows ranging from “Caesar’s Hour” and “The Kate Smith Evening Hour” to the original versions of “The Price is Right” and “Jeopardy!”

On Nov. 22, 1963, it was Pardo who delivered the audio news bulletin to NBC-TV viewers, first locally in New York and then nationally, that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in downtown Dallas.

His longest-running announcing gig began Oct. 11, 1975, when NBC launched what it originally called “NBC’s Saturday Night,” with George Carlin as the first guest host: a live, 90-minute mix of youthfully irreverent comedy and music that became a TV institution that continues to this day.

On that first show — after cast member Chevy Chase uttered the now-famous “Live from New York. It’s Saturday Night!” at the end of the opening skit — the jazzy musical theme and opening credits began as veteran announcer Pardo intoned in his authoritative yet friendly voice:

” ‘NBC’s Saturday Night.’ Starring George Carlin. With Janis Ian and Billy Preston. A film by Albert Brooks. Jim Henson’s Muppets. The Not for Ready Prime Time Players. And comedians Valri Bromfield, Andy Kaufman. Ladies and gentleman, George Carlin!”

Illustrating the unpredictability of live television, Pardo had made one flub in his intro.

As he recalled in a 2006 videotaped interview for the Archive of American Television: “(Writer) Herb Sargent, I’ll never forget, came to me after the show. He says, ‘Do you know what you said? You said “Not for Ready.” I says, ‘I did?’ ”

Noting in the interview that he had said “Not Ready for Prime Time Players” correctly in the dress rehearsal, he recalled: “In the early days (of the show), I was like in a little hallway; it wasn’t a studio per se. I was there with a clipboard, and that was it. Maybe I got distracted by something. Whatever it was, I don’t know.”

The show, which was renamed “Saturday Night Live” in 1977, became a star-making success. And, with the exception of the seventh season when changes were made and he was replaced, Pardo continued to be the show’s announcer.

In the process, the already well-known announcer became something of a celebrity himself, appearing occasionally on screen, including joining musical guest Frank Zappa on the song “I’m the Slime” in 1976.

Pardo, whose career included countless commercial voiceovers, also made a cameo appearance in the Weird Al Yankovic music video for his 1984 song “I Lost on Jeopardy,” and he had a bit part as the “Guess That Tune” host in Woody Allen’s 1987 movie comedy “Radio Days.”

Even after retiring as an NBC staff announcer in 2004 and moving to Tucson, Ariz., he continued to fly to New York to announce “Saturday Night Live” at the request of “SNL” creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels, who has said he couldn’t imagine the show without Pardo.

Joining the cast on stage at the end of a “Saturday Night Live” show in 2008, the day after he turned 90, Pardo received a kiss from former SNL head writer and performer Tina Fey and managed to summon the breath to blow out all 90 candles on a birthday cake.

Michaels has said that he originally chose Pardo to announce the comedy show because he “was very much an announcer” and he wanted “that authority voice.”

In 2010, Pardo was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame.

He was born Dominick George Pardo on Feb. 22, 1918, in Westfield, Mass., and primarily grew up in Norwich, Conn.

As a student at Norwich Free Academy, Pardo acted in school productions and won the top prize in a speaking competition in his senior year, the Newton Perkins Medal for Declamation.

Although his baker father wanted him to join the family business after he graduated in 1937, Pardo continued to act in local theater groups and got a job as a ticket-taker at a movie theater in Providence, R.I.

His abilities as an actor caught the attention of the director-producer of the 20th Century Players, a dramatic group that did a weekly one-hour program on Providence radio station WJAR, and he was asked to join the group.

Pardo was still with the group and working in a defense plant when the WJAR station manager, impressed with the sound of his voice while delivering the narrations on one show, offered him a job as a staff announcer.

Pardo’s wife, Kay, died in 1995.

McLellan is a former Times staff writer.

Photo via WikiCommons

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