Pat Carroll, Emmy-Winning Actress And The Voice Of Ursula In “The Little Mermaid,” Has Died At 95

August 1, 2022 / Posted by:

This weekend brought an extra big wave of sadness with the deaths of Bill Russell, Mary Alice, and Nichelle Nichols. And the sadness kept coming with the death of comedian, actress, and legendary voice artiste Pat Carroll. Pat was 95.

Pat’s daughter, Kerry Karsian, tells The Hollywood Reporter that she died of pneumonia at her home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Pat leaves behind two daughters, Tara and Kerry, and a grandchild. Pat had a third child, Sean, who died 13 years ago on the exact same date as his mother’s death.

Most people probably know Pat Carroll for delightfully tickling ears with glamorous fear as Ursula the Sea Witch in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. But before then, Pat won awards and regularly popped up on TV screens. Pat was born Patricia Ann Carroll on May 5, 1927 in Shreveport, Louisiana, and her family moved to Los Angeles when she was a kid. That’s where she first got into acting. Pat made her movie debut in 1948’s Hometown Girl and her TV debut on The Red Buttons Show in 1952. Pat made appearances on Caesar’s Hour and her talent, timing, and wit on the show got her an Emmy in 1957 for Best Supporting Performance by an Actress. She was nominated again the next year.

From there, Pat played Bunny Halper on The Danny Thomas Show, and guest-starred on The DuPont Show, The Steve Allen Show, The Danny Kaye Show, The Red Skelton Show, and The Carol Burnett Show, as well as regularly making appearances on game shows like Password. And Pat was one of the Wicked Stepsisters in the 1965 production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella which also starred Lesley Ann Warren (Cinderella), Ginger Rogers (Queen), Celeste Holm (The Fairy Godmother), and Barbara Ruick as the other Wicked Stepsister.

By the 1970s, Pat’s career started to slow down a bit and the roles weren’t coming in. So Pat decided to create her own platform for her talent and got writer Marty Martin to write a one-woman show for her about the life and times of Gertrude Stein. Pat said this about the play during an interview with The Washington Post in 1980:

The inspiration for the Gertrude Stein show arose five years ago, as Carroll was preparing for grandmotherhood herself (her three children are ages 13, 21 and 22). Knee surgery put her temporarily out of action, and she began thinking about doing a one person show.

In 1975, she recalls, “Joe Namath and I were both out of the fall lineup.

I became restless, unhappy, morbidly obsessed with having to create my own theatrical activity. Very few producers were beating the bushes for aging, overweight actresses with a limp.”

During her months in bed, she began running over a list of possibilities, and Gertrude Stein kept popping into her mind, although she had never particularly enjoyed Stein’s writings. “I read Stein in college,” she says, “and I built up a lot of aversion to her. Now I run into the same kind of resistance from my friends — before they have seen the show. They expect it to be boring. Why would I want to be boring?”

The show toured the country and did a 14-month run in New York. It was recorded for an album and that got Pat a Grammy for Best Spoken Word, Documentary or Drama in 1981.

Pat was also in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the movie With Six You Get Eggroll, Getting Together, Love, American Style, Laverne & Shirley (she played Shirley’s mom), Busting Loose, Police Woman, The Love Boat, She’s The Sheriff, Too Close For Comfort, and Designing Women. And on stage, she was in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Our Town, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Mother Courage and Her Children.

The 1980s was a new chapter for Pat because that’s when her voice ruled the cartoon game. Pat’s voice was in episodes of Yogi’s Treasure Hunt, Pound Puppies, Galaxy High School, Foolfur, Garfield (voicing the HSOTD that is Grandma Arbuckle), Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers, House of Mouse, Tangled: The Series, and more. And in the 1980s is also when she auditioned for what would become her signature role.

Divine was of course the inspiration for Ursula from The Little Mermaid, but an early inspiration was Alexis Carrington because the movie’s producer and lyricist Howard Ashman was a big fan of Dynasty. They asked Joan Collins if she was interested in voicing Ursula. She wasn’t. Okay, Pat will always be the voice of Ursula to me, but now I really want to see Ursula storm into King Triton’s board room and let him know in a British accent, “I now own 51% of this kingdom! Bea Arthur also passed on being the voice of Ursula. The story goes that after Roseanne, Nancy Wilson, Nancy Marchand, and Charlotte Rae all auditioned, Elaine Stritch got cast. But Howard fired Elaine when they disagreed on how Poor Unfortunate Souls should be performed. Pat was hired and understood the assignment long before “understood the assignment” was internet slang. Pat asked Howard to perform Poor Unfortunate Souls for her and after studying every move and sound he made, she knew what to do. And she took the song to another level by brilliantly mixing fun, evilness, and THI-TURR. Here’s Pat talking about the making of Ursula:

Pat called Ursula her favorite role and she voiced Ursula again in The Little Mermaid TV cartoon, the Kingdom Hearts video game series, the direct-to-video sequel The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, and Disney+’s The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse. You know, I listened to Poor Unfortunate Souls a few times yesterday and I plan to listen to it again. And I’ll continue to honor the brilliance of Pat Carroll by NOT warbling along to it. Pat doesn’t deserve that.

Rest in peace, Pat Carroll.

Pic: YouTube 


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