Radio dramatist and voice actor Erik Bauersfeld, known by Star Wars fans for the iconic voices of Admiral Ackbar and Jabba’s right-hand Twi’lek Bib Fortuna, has passed away at 93.
Bauersfeld’s passion was radio, first and foremost, and he served as director of the drama and literature department for Berkeley’s KPFA radio station for 31 years, beginning in 1961. Years after joining KPFA, Bauersfeld was working at Lucasfilm on a radio project when Return of the Jedi sound designer Ben Burtt asked him to read for the part of Admiral Ackbar. Bauersfeld came up with Ackbar’s distinctive voice minutes after seeing a picture of the Admiral, and recorded all of his lines for the role in an hour before moving on to reading for the part of Bib Fortuna.
Here’s a 2012 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in which Bauersfeld recounts his experience auditioning for “the Jedi movie,” explains the inspiration behind Ackbar’s voice, and describes also reading for the part of Yoda (whom he has dubbed “the little philosopher”):
Bauersfeld also lent his voice to the role of Admiral Ackbar again for The Force Awakens. In addition to his work in Star Wars, he also provided voice acting for Crimson Peak, Artificial Intelligence, and Star Wars: Battlefront, in addition to narrating several documentaries. On the website for his non-profit organization Bay Area Radio Drama (B.A.R.D.), the late actor wrote of his roles in film:
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. George Lucas approved both auditions and other movies followed including Imax films for several national parks, and a brief voice in AI for Steven Spielberg. It wasn’t an occupation I had time to pursue… unfortunately, but for me the art of sound design in film making was brought more and more into how radio drama might be enhanced. This in turn brought very great association for my interest in locational radio drama, another instance of how one artistic field gains in partnership with another.
Whether it was a radio production of Sartre’s Nausea or a few lines in “the Jedi movie,” it’s clear Bauersfeld brought joy and passion to every aspect of his unique and prolific career. According to KPFA, the actor’s last moments were peaceful—sound designer Randy Thom held his hand while his friend, poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, read to him over the phone.
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