Bill Cunningham, the original voice of the classic Ken doll for Mattel during the early 1960s, has died. He was 96.
Cunningham’s death was confirmed to Deadline Thursday by CESD Talent Agency, which he co-founded in 1963.
The singer-turned-businessman died on July 15 at his home in West Hollywood. No other details were provided.
The founder was “among the great innovators and gentlemen of the talent representation business,” CESD partners Ken Slevin and Paul Doherty said in a statement.
“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.”
CESD Talent Agency is now regarded as one of the most successful commercial and voiceover talent agencies in Hollywood.
With the encouragement and support of his late pal and singer Peggy Taylor, Cunningham invested his life savings into founding the Pacific Artists Agency in 1963.
The start-up agency launched with just 10 voiceover clients, before becoming one of the most sought-after organizations for artists.
Pacific Artists became Cunningham & Associates four years later, and Cunningham opened up two more locations in New York and Chicago.
Born in 1927, Cunningham had dreams of making it in Hollywood from a young age.
His dreams of stardom were put on hold when he enlisted in the US Navy, where he served on a minesweeper ship during World War II.
He continued to feed his artistic side by performing with the Fort Emory Drum and Bugle Corp during his service.
After the war, Cunningham returned home and decided to pursue a singing career.
He soon landed stints on NBC’s “Voices of Walter Schumann” and “The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show.”
He also sang on movie soundtracks for studios including Fox, Paramount and Warner Bros.
It was then that he landed his career-defining voice work as Barbie’s boyfriend Ken on the 1961 album “Barbie Sings.”
The following year, Cunningham released his debut album “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” but his music career was short-lived as in 1963 he co-founded his talent agency.
Cunningham retired in 1989 after selling the agency to T.J. Escott and Angela Dipine, who in turn sold it in 2005 to Slevin and Doherty.
His final career venture was releasing his autobiography, “I Wonder What Became of Me” in 2014.
He is survived by his nephews and nieces Kirk, Kevin, Kristen, Janet, Barbara, and Debbie.
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