He was dubbed “The Man of a Thousand Voices,” and there is no more appropriate nickname for Rich Little, the world’s foremost celebrity impersonator. Born Nov. 26, 1938, he discovered his uncanny ability while in school when he started impersonating his teachers, usually answering questions in their own voice (“That didn’t annoy them as much as my giving them the wrong answer did,” he laughs on our newest Classic TV podcast).
Early on, he did some amateur acting and brought his impersonations to his job as a radio disc jockey in Ontario. He recorded a few comedy albums and started playing comedy clubs. This led to his auditioning for singer Mel Torme, who booked him on an episode of The Judy Garland Show in 1964 — an appearance that changed everything for Rich. As a result, he found himself cast in sitcoms, including Love on a Rooftop, That Girl, The Flying Nun, and Petticoat Junction. He also became a frequent guest on variety shows that were enormously popular at the time (including a recurring gig on The Julie Andrews Show), and appeared often on The Tonight Show, where he took great delight in impersonating host Johnny Carson (who seemed to get just as much of a kick out of it as the audience did). He also starred with other impersonators in the sketch comedy series The Kopycats on ABC.
Probably the most fun of anything he ever did was participate in The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, which is perfectly described by the title. When he appeared on those specials, Rich would stand at the center of the dais and impersonate pretty much everyone who was there, including such major stars of the time as Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, George Burns, Jack Benny, Dean Martin himself, and many others. He was also known for his presidential impersonations, from Nixon and Reagan to Bush (both of ’em) and Trump.
President Reagan, he says, was the funniest among them, with Rich telling us that he once quipped, “You know, Rich, you do me so much better than I do, that when I die they should bury you.”
Join us in our conversation with Rich Little on the Classic TV & Film podcast, and be prepared to laugh as he drops a few impersonations along the way.