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Bill Cunningham, voice of the original Ken doll, dies aged 96


Bill Cunningham, voice of the original Ken doll, dies aged 96

Decades before Ryan Gosling played Ken in the ‘Barbie’ movie, singer Bill Cunningham was the original voice of Barbie’s boyfriend for Mattel.

Sadly, CESD Talent Agency – where Cunningham had become a talent agency founder after his singing career – confirmed that the 96-year-old had passed away earlier this month on July 15 at his home in West Hollywood.

No further details about his passing were provided.

In a statement to Deadline, CESD partners Ken Slevin and Paul Doherty said Cunningham was “among the great innovators and gentlemen of the talent representation business. Bill set the template for client and customer service, particularly in commercial, voice-over and print. He was a warm, gregarious, classy man who made a positive impact on all those he represented and employed. It was our honor to know him and to learn from him.”

A young boy looks on and scratches his head in confusion as a younger girl inspects the new line of ‘Ken’ dolls from Mattel, 1961. Ken, whose last name is ‘Carson,’ was introduced as a love-interest for the popular ‘Barbie’ (last name ‘Roberts’) dolls. Ken is shown in various outfits including a tuxedo, pyjamas, a bathrobe, a jacket, a college-type sweater, and a t-shirt and boxer shorts. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Cunningham originally came from San Francisco but moved to Hollywood to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. Though, he later joined the U.S. Navy, where he performed with the Fort Emory Drum and Bugle Corp, touring extensively throughout the Pacific theater.

After the war, Cunningham found success as a singer, making appearances on NBC’s Voices of Walter Schumann and The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show. He also lent his voice to movie soundtracks for major Hollywood studios and portrayed Ken in Mattel’s early Barbie records. Eventually, Cunningham’s musical talents also led him to tour with Judy Garland and Dinah Shore.

In 1963, Cunningham decided to transition to a new career path, investing his life savings into Pacific Artists Agency, encouraged by singer and TV star Peggy Taylor. The agency started with ten voice-over actors, and Cunningham personally delivered headshots and bios to ad agencies in Los Angeles.

As the business grew, it was later renamed Cunningham & Associates in 1967. Expanding further, Cunningham established offices in New York and Chicago in 1971. Over time, T.J. Escott, Slevin, and Doherty joined the agency in the 1970s and 1980s, with the latter two eventually becoming partners in 2005. The firm was then renamed Cunningham-Escott-Slevin-Doherty (CESD) Talent Agency.

CESD is now recognized as one of the nation’s leading talent agencies, representing talents in various fields such as commercials, voice-overs, print, digital influencers, theatrical/TV-film, and young performers.

Cunningham retired in 1989 and later penned an autobiography titled I Wonder What Became of Me, which was published in 2014.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Bill Cunningham’s family and friends at this difficult time.

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