November 26, 1938
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Rich Little was a Canadian-American impressionist and voice actor whose talent for impersonating famous figures made him a household name in the the 1960s and '70s. Born Richard Caruthers Little on November 26, 1938 in Ottawa, Ontario, he was the middle child of Elizabeth and Lawrence Peniston Little. As a teenager, Little began his ascent into the entertainment industry by performing at night clubs. He partnered with future Canadian Member of Parliament Geoffrey Scott, who was then also a budding impressionist; true to Scott's future career, the duo specialized in political humor, imitating the voices of Canadian politicians such as Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. As his vocal impersonations improved, Little felt confident enough to embark on an acting career and joined the Ottawa's Little Theater. He also took his talents to the radio, becoming a successful disc jockey who frequently incorporated celebrity impersonations into his programs. Little received his first big break when American jazz musician Mel Tormé asked the 25-year-old to audition for a new variety show that he was producing for the legendary Judy Garland. Within a year, he made his American television debut on "The Judy Garland Show" (CBS, 1963-64). With the door now open to more possibilities, Little made appearances in several other American television shows. In 1968, he played the clumsy Brother Paul Leonardi alongside Sally Field in two episodes of the sitcom "The Flying Nun" (ABC 1967-1970). His impressive impersonations of famous of Hollywood stars and famous figures, most notably President Richard Nixon, made him a popular guest on variety and late night talk shows. "The Tonight Show" (NBC 1954- ) host Johnny Carson was both a fan and a frequent target of Little's impersonations; the impressionist appeared on the series over 20 times during Carson's reign on the late night institution. (He later appeared as Carson in "The Night Shift" (HBO 1996), a TV movie about the battle between Jay Leno and David Letterman to succeed Carson as "Tonight Show" host.) He was also a regular guest on the Emmy-winning variety series "The Julie Andrews Hour" (ABC 1972-73) and "The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast" (NBC 1974-84), where Little's knack for impersonating the guests of honor fit perfectly with the show's theme; Little appeared as a roaster more than any other person with a total of 24 appearances. Later on, the talented impressionist ventured into his own solo television career with the short-lived series "The Rich Little Show" (NBC 1976) and the one-man special "Rich Little's Christmas Carol" (HBO 1978). During this era, he also became a familiar presence in television commercials. As the years went on, Little continued to adapt his impersonations to the times, learning to imitate President Ronald Reagan, Sylvester Stallone, and Robin Williams. In his native Canada, he lent his voice to the popular animated series "The Raccoons" (CBC, 1985-1991), and was inducted to Canada's Walk of Fame in 1998. In 2007, a year after political comedian Stephen Colbert garnered outrage for his pointed lambasting of President George W. Bush at the White House Correspondents Association dinner, Little was chosen as a non-controversial host for the event.