The Strange Day When Bugs Bunny Saved the Life of Mel Blanc

Great tal­ents seem to embody their craft. It’s as if they invent­ed the form and then broke the mold when they were fin­ished with it.

One of the best mod­ern exam­ples of this vir­tu­os­i­ty is Mel Blanc, voice of Bugs Bun­ny and near­ly all of the Looney Tunes car­toon gang. Blanc, who voiced more than 1,000 char­ac­ters, was famous­ly hard-work­ing. At one point in his career, he scram­bled from stu­dio to stu­dio around Los Ange­les to work on 18 radio shows in one week.

As Mal­colm Glad­well likes to say, that kind of prac­tice leads to mas­tery. And, in Mel Blanc’s case, it may have saved his life.

Radio Lab, broad­cast over WNYC, recent­ly aired a piece about Blanc (lis­ten below) fea­tur­ing an inter­view with his son Noel Blanc, who is also a voice actor. Noel Blanc tells the sto­ry of a ter­ri­ble car acci­dent that bad­ly injured his father in 1961 as he was dri­ving home along Sun­set Boule­vard from a job in San Fran­cis­co. Mel Blanc, dri­ving an Aston Mar­tin, col­lid­ed with anoth­er car on Dead Man’s Curve. Blanc was almost killed and slipped into a coma. Blanc’s son and wife spent two weeks at his bed­side try­ing to revive him, but got no response.

One day, about 14 days after the acci­dent, one of Blanc’s neu­rol­o­gists walked into the room and tried some­thing com­plete­ly new. He went to Mel’s bed and asked, “Bugs Bun­ny, how are you doing today?”

There was a pause while peo­ple in the room just shook their heads. Then, in a weak voice, came the response any­one would rec­og­nize.

“Myeeeeh. What’s up doc?”

The doc­tor then asked Tweety if he was there too.

“I tot I taw a pud­dy tat,” was the reply.

It took sev­en more months in a body cast for Blanc to recov­er. He even voiced Bar­ney Rub­ble in the first episodes of The Flint­stones while lying in bed with a micro­phone dan­gling from above.

The Radio Lab piece includes excerpts from an episode of This is Your Life when Blanc’s doc­tor tried to explain how he revived his patient. “It seemed like Bugs Bun­ny was try­ing to save his life,” was all he could say.

Radio Lab fea­tures anoth­er neurologist’s opin­ion: Blanc was such a hard-work­ing pro­fes­sion­al that his char­ac­ters lived, pro­tect­ed from the brain injury, deep in his uncon­scious mind. The doctor’s ques­tion must have sound­ed like a director’s cue.

Essen­tial­ly, “Mr. Blanc, you’re on.”

And he was, until 1989. Lis­ten through to the end of the pod­cast. The end of Blanc’s life is as remark­able as his long career.

Below, we have added a relat­ed doc­u­men­tary, Mel Blanc: The Man of a Thou­sand Voic­es.

Kate Rix writes about edu­ca­tion and dig­i­tal media. Vis­it her web­site to see more of her work. Fol­low her on Twit­ter: @mskaterix.

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Comments (13)
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  • Daniel says:

    I’ve always thought the two gold-plat­ed names in ani­ma­tion his­to­ry were Mel Blanc and Carl Stalling. While of course this doc­u­men­tary was about Blanc and very well done, there should have been at least a smidgeon of a men­tion of Stalling, the oth­er genius who cranked out a score a week for how many decades I can’t remem­ber. To have those two pow­er­ing your car­toons was a god send, lit­er­al­ly.

  • Bev says:

    My first for­ay into Open Cul­ture and was absolute­ly won­der­ful!!!! Fab­u­lous sto­ry and look for­ward to the doc­u­men­tary lat­er. Thank you, thank you, thank you..

  • Ray Gleason says:

    This is a cir­cum­stance sim­i­lar to what Ive expe­ri­enced with for­est sciences/trees. After loos­ing my abil­i­ty to speak fol­low­ing mul­ti­ple ictal seizures.

    My abil­i­ty to speak has been regained fol­low­ing approx­i­mate­ly 2 years of being able to obtain only abori­cul­ture com­men­tary with latin nom­in­cla­ture of plant iden­ti­fi­ca­tion being able to speak. and um um pro­fan­i­ty.

    Well I speak alot more about plants and nature far more often, my vocab­u­lary is seem­ing to repair over time with a lot of effort.

    Brain Plas­tic­i­ty is the con­cept, maybe.


  • Linda Murry says:

    I just fin­ished watch­ing the 1001 rab­bit tails we were crack­ing up as usu­al, but my sis­ter and i, we watch it the cor­rect way , we get our pump­kin seeds and our real­ly red wine, and we sit in the liv­ing room and we just be rolling, one time we were watch­ing 1001, and just crack­ing up, my hus­band came down stairs looked at us turned around and went back upstairs, so thank you mel, and i know daffy got­ta be black, he he got­ta be.

  • Craig Olmsted says:

    Thanks for the research for this sto­ry. It was fas­ci­nat­ing, enjoy­able, and sad.

  • steve ardire says:

    ter­rif­ic sto­ry !

  • Frances Gonzales says:

    Won­der­ful mem­o­ries.

  • Dave says:

    Now thats a great sto­ry!!! Thanks!

  • Emmer says:

    That’s a great sto­ry! I nev­er knew the man behind the voice.

  • Thomas Ajenifuja says:

    Oh yes! What a tal­ent. I knew the crazy char­ac­ters, I knew the name, I just did­n’t know the man. Fan­tas­tic insight into his amaz­ing work. In fact I will give top cred­it to the whole Looney Toons fam­i­ly and Mel for the laugh­ter they have bought into our lives. I grew up watch­ing these shows back in Nige­ria. All I need now is where to get box sets of these won­der­ful Looney shows. Top marks!!

  • Chris Raynor says:

    Mel’s voic­es in Looney toons were a big part if my life grow­ing up. Sat­ur­day morn­ing car­toons.… Wow.…I would­n’t leave the house on Sat morn­ings til I saw his famous char­ac­ters. Noone can take his place.cartoons have changed,lost the inno­cence they once had. Mel..You’re the best

  • David craig says:

    I agree there­fore you are cor­rect

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