Jump to content

Entertainer Fred Travalena


Recommended Posts


Entertainer Fred Travalena

by Dennis McLellan


Impressionist and Singer Fred Travalena

LOS ANGELES, California -- Fred Travalena, known in Las Vegas as 'The Man of a Thousand Faces' was a master impressionist and singer. His broad repertoire of voices ranged from Jack Nicholson to Sammy Davis Jr. to Bugs Bunny. Travalena, talk-show regular and star of his own specials, died on Sunday, June 28 from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He was 66.

Travalena, who began being treated for an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2002 and saw the disease return last July after going into remission in 2003, died Sunday at his home in Encino, according to his publicist, Roger Neal. Travalena also was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003 but had been in complete remission since then.

Dubbed "Mr. Everybody," Travalena emerged on the national stage as an impressionist in the early 1970s. Over the next three decades, he was a headliner in Las Vegas, Reno and Atlantic City, performed in concerts around the country, appeared on "The Tonight Show" and other talk shows and starred in his own specials, such as "The Many Faces of Fred Travalena" and "Comedy in the Oval Office."


Fred Travalena and his cast of characters

The boyish-faced entertainer is said to have had a repertoire of more than 360 celebrity, political and cartoon-character voices, including Clint Eastwood, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld, Johnny Mathis, Bruce Springsteen and Luciano Pavarotti.

"I've known impressionists who have reached a wall where they can't do any more [voices]," Travalena told the Omaha World Herald in 1996. "I don't have that problem, thank God." In one part of his act, Travalena physically and vocally "morphed" into all of the U.S. presidents, from John F. Kennedy up to George W. Bush.

He also was known to sing "Have I Told You Lately" in various voices, including Kermit the Frog ("Have I told you lately that I love you"), Katharine Hepburn ("Have I told you there's no one else above you") and Frank Sinatra ("You fill my heart with gladness . . . ") The imaginative entertainer even did Sinatra imitating Boy George.


Fred Travalena

Of Italian and Irish heritage, Travalena was born October 6, 1942, in the Bronx, New York, and grew up on Long Island. When it came to impressions, he had an early role model: his father, a onetime entertainer who sang and performed comedy and impressions.

"He got me doing church shows when I was just a little kid," Travalena recalled on "The Crier Report" on Fox News Network in a 1998 interview. "I used to do an impression of [singer] Johnny Ray."

In school, he said, he learned to deal with bullies by imitating a Martian voice or Porky Pig. And he found he could deflect a teacher's question of why he didn't do his homework by making her laugh with his impression of Crazy Guggenheim, the goofy character played on TV by Frank Fontaine during Jackie Gleason's "Joe the Bartender" sketches.


Fred Travalena

During a stint in the Army's Special Services, Travalena won the All-Army Entertainment Award for best singer and once impersonated President Lyndon Johnson's voice on the base theater's answering machine to announce the movies and show times.

Although he told the New York Times in 1989 that he was "headed for the commercial art field," Travalena said: "That wasn't getting me up in the morning, and I couldn't get show business out of my mind."

At one point after launching his career as a singer, he and his singer wife, Lois, were performing together at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C. As recounted in a 1989 New York Times story, Lois surprised her husband by spontaneously asking the audience, "How'd you like to hear Fred do impressions?"


Fred Travalena

He went on to impersonate Dean Martin, Paul Lynde, Jim Nabors and Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. "People liked it," he later said.

Travalena reportedly was performing at a resort hotel in the Catskills when impressionist Rich Little was in the audience. After the show, Little congratulated Travalena and later recommended him for a spot in British celebrity journalist David Frost's show at the Riviera in Las Vegas.

Travalena joined Little, Frank Gorshin and other impressionists as a regular on the "ABC Comedy Hour," the 1972 comedy-variety show, which was known in reruns as the "ABC Comedy Hour Presents the Kopycats."


Fred Travalena

In 1974, he opened for Shirley MacLaine at the old MGM Grand and later opened for other Vegas performers such as Mathis, Davis, Wayne Newton and Andy Williams. Travalena received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005.

Travalena's talent for vocal mimicry led to a side career dubbing offensive dialogue in feature films bound for airing on television -- including Pesci in "Casino," De Niro in "Brazil" and Sean Connery in "Just Cause."

Travalena made occasional guest appearances on TV series such as "The Love Boat" and "Murphy Brown," as well as on "Hollywood Squares" and other game shows. He also did voices on a number of TV cartoon series and appeared in the 1978 movie "The Buddy Holly Story."


Fred Travalena

In more recent years, he turned to songwriting and singing and released CDs including "We All Need Love Today" and "The Spirit of America." For a man of so many voices, re-finding his own voice as a singer was something of a challenge. "That really scared me for awhile," he told the Reno Gazette-Journal in 1999.

Travalena continued, "I'd wanted to expand into singing, and two years ago I told my drummer to book a studio. The night before the session, I was ready to cancel. I asked myself, 'Who is Fred Travalena? Where is that 19-year-old kid who was a singer? What is my sound?' I just had to get used to it."

Travalena is survived by his wife of 39 years, Lois; sons Fred IV and Corey; and a granddaughter, Sophia. Funeral services will be private. A public memorial service is being planned.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...