Russi Taylor Dead

It was only a couple years ago that I was genuinely taken aback by the depth of talent present in the voice of Russi Taylor. You may have only heard Ms. Taylor’s name for the first time over the weekend, but if you’re reading this, I’d submit that it’s impossible you never heard her voice before. There was her work on The Simpsons as the prissy nerd Martin Prince, her roles in films like Babe, and then, of course, one other part that she played for nearly 35 years: Minnie Mouse. She died last Friday, at age 75.

Just last year, Ms. Taylor was justifiably nominated for an Emmy for her voice-over work in a special episode of the Mickey Mouse revival series. (It wasn’t her first nomination; sadly, she never won.) It was in that episode that her voice took me by surprise. The special, titled The Scariest Story Ever: A Mickey Mouse Halloween Spectacular, is a riff on three familiar sets of characters, from Frankenstein to Dracula to Hansel and Gretel. Within the episode, as Mickey is ragged by his friends for not being able to tell a genuinely scary story, he lets it rip with a yarn about a witch who bakes up nasty little boys into pies that they can’t help but gobble up. Taylor plays that witch, a far, bloodthirsty cry from her sweet-as-pie turn as Minnie.

I mention this because it will be easy, and no doubt accurate, to mourn Russi Taylor the way you might mourn a loved one, because she was inextricably associated with playing Minnie Mouse. Mickey Mouse has, in the last decade, gone through a number of voices. Just as Mickey and Minnie were forever in love, it felt utterly appropriate that Taylor married the longtime voice behind Mickey Mouse, Wayne Allwine, in 1991. They were together until Allwine passed away just over a decade ago. Since then, Mickey’s been voiced by both Bret Iwan and Chris Diamantopoulos, the latter on the Mickey Mouse short series where he co-starred with Taylor.

But since 1986, Minnie Mouse has essentially been Russi Taylor, and vice versa. Minnie had been without a voice since 1974, which means that for a lot of people (myself included), there has really only been one Minnie Mouse for all our lives. As much as animation itself brings life to characters as legitimately iconic as Minnie, it’s the tireless work of voice actors who make them feel like our friends. So it’s because of Russi Taylor that Minnie Mouse has endured through different iterations in just the last 33 years.

And Taylor was more than just the voice of Minnie Mouse. Within the world of Disney, you may well know her as the voice of Huey, Dewey, and Louie on the original version of DuckTales. (On the revival series, she only appeared once as a young version of Donald.) Outside of Disney, Taylor was a consummate working voice actor, which means there’s all sorts of credits that only served to confirm her as a legend of the craft. She played everyone from Strawberry Shortcake to Baby Gonzo on the original Muppet Babies to the aforementioned Martin as well as Sherri, Terri, and German exchange student Uter on The Simpsons to Pebbles Flintstone in direct-to-DVD movies keeping the stone age family alive.

But at the end of the day, Russi Taylor is Minnie Mouse. As versatile as her voice was — and the fact that she could play Martin Prince over the span of three decades, and also play Minnie Mouse without most people recognizing she could do both, is proof of her versatility — she’ll always have a special place in the hearts of most people, whether they’re kids now or they were kids in the 1980s. She deserves nothing less, for being the voice of the pink-bowed character who won Mickey Mouse’s heart all these years ago. 

Because Disney is Disney, there’s little doubt that someone will fill Russi Taylor’s shoes as Minnie Mouse moving forward. Whoever that person is will surely do a fine job, and yet, I don’t envy the task. There are few characters as easily recognizable to child and adult alike who have lasted this long in popular culture with the same voice – the late Jim Henson performed as Kermit the Frog for 35 years before his untimely passing, just two years more than Taylor’s tenure as Minnie.

As a way to acknowledge her passing, Disney’s statement included a quote of Russi Taylor’s: “I never wanted to be famous. The characters I do are famous, and that’s fine for me.” Certainly, if you’d walked by her on the street, you wouldn’t have recognized Russi Taylor by sight. But it’s equally true that her status in animation is just about unmatched. (The company reasonably deemed her a Disney Legend back in 2008.) Voice actors like Taylor are easy to forget, because they’re not A-List celebrities who bring in box office. But with the loss of Russi Taylor, we lose one of the voices of our childhoods. It’s a terrible loss, and she’ll be missed by countless millions who might not even know her name.

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