TORONTO — Renowned Canadian voiceover artist Alan Bleviss won industry acclaim for bringing a sonorous, honeyed tenor to blockbuster film trailers and TV commercials.
And then he lost his dulcet tones.
Reflecting on the legacy of her father, whose recent death made international headlines, Sarah Bleviss says there was a point in his life when he could barely speak due to a neurological disorder.
“It’s a bit like a Greek tragedy to have this profoundly beautiful and commanding voice and to lose it,” she said.
The Edmonton native, who narrated the trailers of films including “Scarface,” “Dirty Dancing” and “Ragtime,” was eventually able to recover vocally and went on to become the signature voice of the Democratic Party on election campaigns for Bill Clinton and Joe Biden.
“I know he was invited to the Clinton inauguration twice and he decided not to go to keep the mystery, which I think is kind of funny,” Sarah Bleviss said Wednesday in a phone interview from New York.
But she said her father’s struggles with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy were debilitating and nearly robbed him of his career.
“He went through a period of complete paralysis, including his vocal chords,” she said.
“In his recovery, he ended up with a damaged peripheral nervous system, so for 30-something years of my life, he couldn’t feel his hands, legs, arms or feet.
“He worked with a vocal specialist here in New York, who was a former Israeli drill sergeant, and she taught him to regain his voice and recontrol his voice using, I believe, his diaphragm.”
She said the same woman helped him regain his voice when chemotherapy and radiation damaged his vocal chords during treatment for lung cancer. He died at his home in New York City on Dec. 30 after a two-year battle with the disease. He was 76.
He was born to Jewish parents and studied at the University of Alberta. To appease his father, who wanted him to become a lawyer, he said he was studying law — when in fact he was studying theatre.
“When his father found out he was so upset and he actually stopped funding my father’s education,” Sarah Bleviss said.
“My father actually was an incredible card player and he played poker and bridge and things like that to fund his education.”
He went on to study at the National Theatre School of Canada, where he became a lifetime governor and has a library named after him and his family.
“Thank you, Alan, for your unparalleled altruism and for having dedicated your time and financial leadership to helping NTS reveal the talent of so many young theatre artists, on and behind the stage,” the school said in a statement.
“Your voice and passion will always echo through the halls of our school and continue to inspire students to persevere and follow their dreams.”
Sarah Bleviss noted his theatre education was a great influence on his work.
“His training, which I think is unusual for voiceovers, came not from broadcasting but from a theatre background. So even watching him in the booth, you could see him emoting. He was really acting, in a sense,” she said.
Blevis spent his later years in Arizona and then New York. He won six Clio awards, which honour creativity in advertising, as well as a trophy from the Cannes International Film Festival in 1985.
“People from all over the world can recognize the voice of Alan Bleviss,” Stephen Waddell, national executive director of Canada’s performers’ union, ACTRA, said in a statement.
“That’s a great legacy, but we also remember (the) talented performer, beloved father and the engaged passionate member of ACTRA who gave so much back to Canada’s performing community.”
Bleviss is survived by his children, Sarah, Joshua and Lisa.
“My dad has an incredibly strong will, so even the day before he passed, he was still up at the computer, he was talking to us,” Sarah Bleviss said.
“He said some really incredibly powerful things that night that I will never forget. He wasn’t the kind of person that ever wanted to give up. I think his body gave out before he did.”