Erik Bauersfeld, the actor best known for providing the voice of Admiral Ackbar in the Star Wars films Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens (and classic computer game Star Wars: X-Wing), died Sunday at the age of 93, the Hollywood Reporter reports. While his delivery of Akbar’s most famous line deserves its renown, Star Wars was not his life’s work. Instead, he spent most of his life working in radio drama. As he explained on the website for Bay Area Radio Drama, a nonprofit he founded in 1986, his voice work just a matter of being in the right place at the right time:
The voice work I did in movies was accidental. I was working with Randy Thom on radio dramas at his technical quarters at Lucasfilm. One day Ben Burtt, sound designer for Star Wars, came by and asked if I would audition for a voice in the movie. It became two voices, Admiral Ackbar and Bib Fortuna. It took little time and I was back to Randy for more radio O’Neill.
Bauersfeld’s career began at Berkeley, California, radio station KPFA in 1961 with a reading from Sartre’s Nausea, which he didn’t know the station was airing until he saw it on a program schedule. He went on to head KPFA’s drama and literature department for 30 years. While there, he worked on a mind-boggling variety of projects, running the gamut from horror anthology The Black Mass to a series about acoustical locations to several projects with his friend, poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Excerpts from most of his work can be heard on the Bay Area Radio Drama website, but if you’re in a radio kind of mood, here are two of his notable productions:
“All Hallows,” by Walter de la Mare, The Black Mass, 1963
The Black Mass, Bauersfeld’s first series, was influential in both radio drama and horror, even if, according to sound designer Jack Whiting, “he was not wildly enthusiastic” about the idea of a horror show when they began. “All Hallows” is the first episode, though it wasn’t Bauersfeld’s favorite:
All Hallows was the first and it bears some of the effects of my earlier readings of literature, in which I hadn’t yet released claim to all the voices I could do. Fortunately All Hallows has only two.
If you have a taste for more horror, check out Bauersfeld’s adaptation of Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman,” which series sound designer Jack Whiting called “one of the best radio dramatic productions I’ve ever heard.”
Hughie, Eugene O’Neill, 1993:
Jason Robards played the title role in Hughie’s first Broadway production in 1964, in which he delivers a lengthy monologue to a hotel clerk played by Jack Dodson. In 1993, as part of a series of O’Neill adaptations, Bauersfeld, as producer, reunited Robards, Dodson and director José Quintero to perform the play for radio. (Quintero, famous for his work with O’Neill, directed the entire series.) Audio for the entire series is available at eOneill.com.