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PowerCon/ThunderCon 2011: Interview with Original Lion-O Voice Actor Larry Kenney

Larry KenneyVoice-over actor Larry Kenney was one of the special guests of honor for the 2011 PowerCon/ThunderCon. Kenney is best known to fans as the voice of the original Lion-O for the 1980’s ThunderCats animated series, where he also voiced such characters as Safari Joe, Jackalman, and Snarf Eggbert. In the new series on Cartoon Network, Kenney now voices Claudus, Lion-O’s father.

Kenney also worked on other Rankin/Bass animated shows such as Silverhawks where he voiced Lt. Bluegrass, and Tigersharks where he voiced Dolph. For General Mills, Kenney portrayed the voice of several cartoon cereal mascot icons such as Frankenberry, Count Chocula, and Sonny the Cuckoo Bird. Kenney was also the voice-over announcer for the sketch-comedy series, The State, which also featured Kenney’s daughter, actress and comedienne Kerri Kenney-Silver. Toonzone News was able to interview Kenney at the con about many of his voice-over roles:

TOONZONE NEWS: You’ve been to a few different conventions lately.

LARRY KENNEY: Yes.

TZN: And this is the first one dedicated to ThunderCats and He-Man. What has it been like going to the conventions and interacting with the fans who have been growing up with these characters for years?

LARRY KENNEY: It’s fantastic. I’ve been getting e-mail over the years. It’s always great hearing from the fans and meeting them on the street somewhere, but to have a concentrated thing like this where everybody is here for the same purpose, where we all love the same things, and to sit and talk with fans who invariably know ten times the information I know about ThunderCats. So it’s great to meet the fans.

TZN: You were able to come back and play a role in the new ThunderCats series as Claudus. Were you surprised you were asked back to do the new show and work on ThunderCats again?

LARRY KENNEY: I was pleasantly surprised, elated. I was surprised there was even going to be a new series. For a couple of years, Warner Bros. had been talking about doing a film. Then I actually got a call from my agent saying they’re going to do a series and would like to get you in the series. So I was extremely excited because I had been telling people in the panels that it’s rare in an actor’s career to have the opportunity to work on something as rare and wonderful as ThunderCats. To have it happen again is almost unheard of in the acting profession. I just feel blessed.

TZN: You mentioned e-mail and fan mail. Did fans ever send you gifts or artwork related to your animation voice work?

LARRY KENNEY: Yeah, lots of fan art work. A lot of fans sent me birthday cards that they made themselves, or Christmas cards with Lion-O on the front. So it’s been fantastic.

(l to r) Larry Kenney (voice of Lion-O) and Gerrianne Raphael (voice of Pumyra)

TZN: For your cereal mascot characters, did you originate Sunny and Count Chocula?

LARRY KENNEY: I did not. Jim Dukas had played Count Chocula for many years. I’ve been doing him since 1978. And Sonny the Cocoa Puffs Bird…oh gosh, I can’t think of the fellow’s name, but he had been doing him for 21 years before I started (ed’s note: Chuck McCann was the original voice for Sonny the Cocoa Puffs Bird). I’ve been doing Sonny for thirty years now. I remember when I was a kid watching Cocoa Puffs commercials on TV. The commercials were black and white and they were animated but they were old fashioned, almost like a flip book. They were a bunch of kids and they were in a train, and the jingle was, “Puff, puff, cocoa puffs.” And as the smoke would come out of the smoke stack funnel, it would form, “Cocoa Puffs.” That’s what I remember.

TZN: Have you ever met the voices of the other cartoon cereal characters?

LARRY KENNEY: Oh of course. I’ve got a picture of all us. We were all in the same place to do a commercial. In fact, Jim Dukas, the guy I told you about who was the original Count Chocula, he’s in the picture because at that time I was only doing Sonny for Cocoa Puffs. The gentleman who did the original Lucky the Leprechaun [for Lucky Charms cereal] is in the picture, Russell Horton, who still to this day is the Trix rabbit. And if you remember Frankenberry, that was Bob McFadden who played Snarf in ThunderCats.

TZN: For the new ThunderCats you recorded your parts by yourself, but with the original series and the other Rankin/Bass cartoons, did you get to work with your other cast members?

LARRY KENNEY: Always. That was one of the great things about it. We were always together in the same room with rare exceptions and we would record four shows a month. One Thursday and Friday of each month, back to back, we would record two shows each day, and we were always all together. These days in our business you rarely work with a large group of people. In fact most of the times if you’re doing commercials or anything like that, you’re alone in the studio; it’s not nearly as much, no.

TZN: When you did something like ThunderCats, were you aware they would have these lasting legacies and fanbases?

LARRY KENNEY: There was no way of knowing. From one thing, we started recording the voices for ThunderCats in October of ’83 and the show didn’t begin on television until 1985. So we were working a little over a year before it got on the air. And then of course it has to be on the air for a while for the ratings to come in and start hearing comments. And then you get to the point where I like to tell the story where the show had been on for a year or so, and I went Christmas shopping at Toys R Us. And for the first time, there were three aisles of nothing but ThunderCats. That’s when I told myself this thing’s a big hit. There was never any way to know it would become so iconic, so classic.

TZN: Was this year your first year at San Diego Comic-Con?

LARRY KENNEY: San Diego, yes. I’ve been to lots of them, but this was my first year at San Diego.

Thunder! Thunder!! THUNDERCATS!!! HOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!TZN: Was it really overwhelming to see a room filled with people to get to see the new show’s premiere and to see the fans after the debut?

LARRY KENNEY: I teared up. We were backstage at the panel where for the first time fans got to see the first episode. They ran the whole premiere for the fans. We were backstage for the latter part of the screening, waiting to come on. I’ll never forget the roar that went up at various points. I got goose bumps and teared up when my character Claudus, for his last time and for my last time got to hold the sword high and say, “Thunder! Thunder! ThunderCats!” And a roar went up out in the audience. One of the writers leaned over to me and he said, “They know it’s you. All that is for you.” I started tearing up. That was incredible.

TZN: Your daughter Kerri Kenney-Silver is also a tremendous actress and comedian. I never got that she was your daughter until recently. You must be very proud of her with her work through shows such as Viva Variety and Reno 911.

LARRY KENNEY: I’m extremely proud of her. I’m mostly proud of her because she’s a wonderful person and daughter and mother and wife; that’s first. Secondly, I’m proud of her talent. She’s done very, very well. I’ve been staying all week at her house in Malibu, which was nice to be able to come out because I rarely get to see my six year old grandson so it’s been a great week.

TZN: Is he a big fan of ThunderCats?

LARRY KENNEY: Oh of course he is. I brought him home a bunch of toys. I brought him the Sword of Omens and the Lion-O action figures.

TZN: And you started in voice over in radio as a disc jockey right?

LARRY KENNEY: Yeah, I was with Imus in The Mornings for thirty five years, radio and TV. I was a member of the cast for his show for thirty five years.

TZN: What was it like working with Don Imus?

LARRY KENNEY: Well he is what you see. He can be very generous and caring, and there are times you’d rather not be around him. But it was a good run.

TZN: Thank you so much for your time and thank you for coming.

LARRY KENNEY: Thank you and thank you to all the fans. It wouldn’t be a show without you.

Toonzone would like to thank Larry Kenney for taking the time to speak with us. ThunderCats is broadcast Fridays on Cartoon Network.

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