Bill Cunningham — the original voice of the Ken doll — has died at age 96.
Cunningham, who founded CESD Talent Agency, passed away at his home in West Hollywood on July 15, the agency told Deadline in an article published on Wednesday, July 26.
Cunningham’s death came six days before the July 21 premiere of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, which reinvigorated the world’s obsession with the iconic doll — and all of her friends — and once again brought the toys to the forefront of pop culture.
Cunningham provided Ken’s voice in the early 1960s, including on the 1961 album Barbie Sings!, which boasted the tagline: “6 terrific teen-age tunes sung by Barbie and Ken.”
On one track, Cunningham-as-Ken sings: “Barbie, you’re beautiful / You’re just my style / I fall in love each time we meet / Barbie, you’re so lovable / With just one smile / You simply sweep me off my feet.”
While Cunningham crooned to Barbie on her early ‘60s record, it was Ryan Gosling who provided the voice — and face — of Barbie’s boyfriend in the Barbie movie, singing fan favorite songs like “Just Ken” and Matchbox 20’s “Push.”
“He has a beautiful voice, and he’s a beautiful dancer. We got there organically,” Gerwig, 39, told Rolling Stone in an interview published on Wednesday, July 25, of how she managed to convince Gosling, 42, to sing for the role. “I think if I had said, ‘I want you to sing and dance in this movie,’ he would not have necessarily done that for me. But it was kind of that thing of boiling a lobster. I think by the time he was singing and dancing, he didn’t even totally know how we had gotten there. But he’s so fabulous at it.”
Though Cunningham’s name wasn’t on the list of inspirations for Gosling’s version of Ken, Gerwig shared a number of iconic actors when telling the outlet of Gosling’s portrayal, calling it “some combination of Marlon Brando meets Gene Wilder meets John Barrymore meets John Travolta.”
While Cunningham’s past turn as Ken has made headlines due to the release of the movie, the singer — who went on tour with Judy Garland, per Deadline, and released albums of his own — was more well-known for his work as the founder of CESD, which is regarded as one of the most prestigious talent agencies for voiceover work.
“Bill Cunningham opened Pacific Artist Agency Hollywood in 1963, following a prolific singing career and at the encouragement of his friend, singer and TV personality Peggy Taylor,” CESD said in a statement via Instagram on Wednesday. “In 1967, Pacific Artists became Cunningham & Associates.The company’s agency’s success led him to open a second office in New York during 1971. In just a few short years, Cunningham & Associates, now known as CESD, became the most successful, bicoastal commercial/VO talent agency in the business.”
In 2014, Cunningham released his memoir, I Wonder What Became of Me.