Daniel DiManna
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How a Car Crash Nearly Killed the Voice of Bugs Bunny

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Bugs Bunny
One of LA’s most dangerous streets nearly killed history’s most prolific voice actor
Photo: Needpix via CC

On the night of Jan. 24, 1961, a 52-year-old man was driving his sports car home through the dark streets of Los Angeles. As he turned down the stretch of Sunset Boulevard known as “Dead Man’s Curve,” the man’s car was violently hit by an oncoming vehicle. While the 18-year-old driver of the second vehicle sustained only minor injuries, the same couldn’t be said for the man in the sports car. Near dead and unconscious, he was rushed to the UCLA Medical Center. His chances for survival seemed slim.

The man was Mel Blanc, the legendary voice actor behind hundreds of beloved cartoon characters, including Bugs Bunny. And this is the story of how he overcame the odds to survive one of LA’s most infamous car accidents.


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Bugs Bunny and beyond

Daffy Duck. Yosemite Sam. Porky Pig. Marvin the Martian. Barney Rubble. Woody Woodpecker. And, of course, the iconic Bugs Bunny. These are just some of the many cartoon characters given life by Hollywood’s most revered voice actor: Mel Blanc. Known as the “Man of a Thousand Voices,” Blanc first rose to prominence back during the Golden Age of animated theatrical shorts. His talent for voice characterization was quickly put to use by Warner Bros., who were looking to compete with Disney’s cartoon output by creating their own series of wacky shorts. These series — dubbed the Merry Melodies and the Looney Tunes — quickly became popular entertainment during the Great Depression.

Throughout the 1930s and into the 1950s, Blanc’s characterizations became the heart and soul behind these classic cartoons. Nearly every character in the shorts was voiced by Blanc, a feat that made him one of the most in-demand actors of his time. Aside from his Looney Tunes work, Blanc could also be heard playing multiple characters on the popular Jack Benny radio show and its television spinoff, laughing insanely in Walter Lantz’s Woody Woodpecker shorts, and voicing too many characters to count for Hanna-Barbera Productions.

The accident and a miracle

By 1961, Blanc had been entertaining children for more than 30 years. He’d worked nearly constantly, only rarely taking breaks. His Jan. 24 accident on Dead Man’s Curve broke that streak by nearly ending his life.

Blanc arrived at UCLA with both of his legs fractured, multiple ribs broken, and his pelvis shattered. Even worse, he had sustained a triple skull fracture. For two weeks, the voice of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and countless other beloved characters lay in a coma, his family and doctors unable to get a response.

Then, about 14 days after the crash, one of Blanc’s neurologists got a strange idea. As recounted by Blanc’s son, Noel, the doctor bent over Blanc’s bed and said, “Bugs Bunny, how are you doing today?” After a few moments of silence, a faint voice replied, “What’s up, doc?” Amazed, the doctor tried again. “Tweety, can you hear me?” Once again, Blanc replied: “I tot I taw a puddy tat.”

The doctors and Blanc’s family were stunned. Somehow, the cartoon voices that had become such a big part of Blanc’s life were the thing that ended up bringing him out of his coma.

Aftermath

Less than two months later, Blanc had not only made a miraculous recovery, but had returned home, albeit in a full-body cast. His first order of business was to see to it that the deadly Dead Man’s Curve on Sunset Boulevard was made safe for drivers. Blanc’s accident was the 26th at the intersection in only two years. After a lawsuit and publicity surrounding the accident, the city approved funding to have the dangerous stretch of road restructured and fixed.


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Amazingly, despite the number of injuries he received, Mel Blanc would go on to live and work for nearly another 30 years. Throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s, he continued to voice his Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera characters for TV, compilation movies, and feature films like 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit? He would die in 1989 at the age of 81.