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Toy Story Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

Believe it or not, the "Toy Story" franchise is now multi-generational. With four feature films, a "Lightyear" spin-off, and a number of expanded universe projects in the works, the franchise has come a long way since its 1995 debut. In the nearly three decades since "Toy Story" broke ground as the world's first full-length computer-animated movie, a whole new group of kids has had Buzz and Woody see them from the playpen through high school ... and beyond. 

It's an amazing success to look back on — and perhaps, time to reflect on the warm, charming, personality-filled voices that have brought this universe to such vivid life.

With a property that covers as much time as "Toy Story," it's unfortunately natural that some actors who contributed to the series have passed away. In some cases, this happened between films and their absence was minimized through talented sound-alikes; in others, the actor so fully inhabited the character that Disney/Pixar had little choice but to retire it.

With that in mind (and Buzz getting a new voice of his own in "Lightyear"), it's a good time to remember and celebrate the "Toy Story" actors you may not know have passed away, the performances they vividly brought to life on screen, and the ways Pixar stewarded the care of the characters they voiced.

Don Rickles (Mr. Potato Head)

Ironically dubbed "Mr. Warmth," Don Rickles was the one and only voice actor to portray Mr. Potato Head in all four "Toy Story" films and supplemental shorts. Rickles died in 2017 at age 90, but not before his signature abrasive style of comedy worked its way into Mr. Potato Head's character, to the point where he even got a joke referencing one of his go-to favorite insults. Similarly somewhat crass and no-fluff, Mr. Potato Head ultimately is loyal to his friends and his kid, from Andy to Bonnie.

Rickles had committed to being part of 2019's "Toy Story 4," but died before recording sessions were underway. Director Josh Cooley shared with Entertainment Weekly in 2019 that Pixar would be able to still use Rickles' voice for the movie, at the request of his family, rather than recast the character or remove Potato Head from the plot. Cooley said the crew dissected "25 years of everything we didn't use for 'Toy Story' 1, 2, 3, the theme parks, the icecapades, the video games, everything he's recorded for Mr. Potato Head ... I'm very honored that he's in the film."

Walt Disney Imagineer Kevin Rafferty worked with Rickles while developing a larger-than-life Mr. Potato Head robotic figure that would welcome guests to "Toy Story Mania!," a ride that opened in 2008 at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. In his 2019 book "Magic Journey: My Fantastical Walt Disney Imagineering Career," Rafferty shared that Rickles said the experience was "his pleasure, because he does Mr. Potato Head for his grandchildren. Every line he performed, and there were hundreds, was for them."

Estelle Harris (Mrs. Potato Head)

Mrs. Potato Head's arrival was teased at the end of "Toy Story" as a Christmas gift given to Andy's sister, Molly, offscreen. When "Toy Story 2" debuted in 1999, Pixar revealed the character as a new member of the cast, voiced by Estelle Harris.  Best known at the time for her role as George Castanza's mom on "Seinfeld," Harris later endeared herself to younger audiences as Muriel, a hotel employee on "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody." Harris continued to voice Mrs. Potato Head for 2010's "Toy Story 3" and 2019's "Toy Story 4." She died in April 2022 at age 93.

Sometimes Harris got to record lines with Don Rickles, who voiced her onscreen partner. Harris told Entertainment Weekly in 2019 about the first time they met. "Before he even had the chance to say 'Hello,' I looked him right in the eye and said, 'I love you, Mr. Rickles, but I am very sensitive. So if you ever say anything not nice or mean to me, I'm warning you, I'm going to tell you to go **** yourself!" Harris said Rickles promptly "hugged me, and said to everyone, 'I love this gal!'"

Harris' exuberance fueled Mrs. Potato Head with a firecracker of a personality, one moment sweet and the next screaming. It's Mrs. Potato Head's idea, for instance, to adopt the three Pizza Planet aliens after Mr. Potato Head saves their lives — for which, as they repeat incessantly, they're eternally grateful.

Jim Varney (Slinky Dog)

Co-creator with an ad agency of a genuine regional phenomenon that became a cultural juggernaut, Jim Varney's only-in-America story of amusement park huckster-turned-national brand-huckster-turned TV star-turned movie star Ernest P. Worrell deserves its own feature film. Portraying Worrell in an astounding 10 "Ernest" films, Varney was then cast as the voice of Slinky Dog for 1995's "Toy Story" and 1999's "Toy Story 2." Possessing a friendly voice with a unique Southern scratchiness, Varney was perfect for easygoing Slinky, Woody's right-hand man in Andy's room. In 2000, Varney died of lung cancer.

Slinky remained an important member of Andy's toys, and filmmakers wanted to include him in future "Toy Story" movies while also honoring Varney's memory. As such, actor Blake Clark was recast in the role and performed Slinky in 2010's "Toy Story 3" and 2019's "Toy Story 4." Clark was a personal friend of Varney's and had co-starred with the actor in 1989's "Fast Food." In a Blu-ray bonus feature for "Toy Story 3," Clark shares his approach to voicing Slinky Dog: "I just wanted to do right by the role and do right by Jim. We were friends. I met him in 1980 ... He's from Kentucky and I'm from Georgia, so we just kind of hit it off."

Ned Beatty (Lotso)

Lots-O-Huggin' Bear — or Lotso, for short — appears to be a warm, fuzzy, welcoming leader at Sunnyside Daycare when Andy's toys arrive there in "Toy Story 3." After all, he smells like strawberries. What's not to love? It isn't long, however, before Lotso's true nature is revealed. As another character puts it, "He may be plush and huggable on the outside, but on the inside, he's a monster." Lotso was voiced by Ned Beatty, one of the great supporting stars of the '70s and '80s, who passed away in 2021 at age 83.

Beatty had a diverse career as an actor, appearing in classics like 1972's "Deliverance" and 1980's "Superman" and delivering one of the all-time great cinematic monologues in the Paddy Chayefsky-penned "Network." Upon Beatty's passing, "Toy Story 3" director Lee Unkrich remembered the actor on Twitter. "Just heard that Ned Beatty passed away in his sleep," Unkrich wrote. "It was a joy and an incredible honor to work with him. Thanks, Ned, for bringing Lotso to life — both his good side and his not-so-good side. We'll miss you."

Joe Ranft (Wheezy the Penguin, speaking)

Wheezy is a penguin squeaker toy whose squeaker gets busted. Squeakerless and furthermore aggravated by the dust he collects from time spent on the shelf, Wheezy's semi-asthmatic voice was provided by longtime Pixar artist Joe Ranft. In 2005, Ranft tragically passed away in a car accident at age 45.

Ranft's influence is all over Pixar and Disney animated films. He co-wrote "Toy Story" and worked within the story departments on classic films like "Beauty and the Beast," "The Nightmare Before Christmas," "The Lion King," and "Monsters, Inc.," among others. Ranft served as co-director and co-writer of "Cars," which debuted in 2006 following his death. In addition to voicing Wheezy in "Toy Story 2," Ranft also voiced Lenny the binoculars in "Toy Story," Heimlich the caterpillar in "A Bug's Life," Jacques the shrimp in "Finding Nemo," and Red the firetruck in "Cars."

Joe's brother, Jerome Ranft, remains at Pixar as a character sculptor. "Being able to work with [Joe] on any project was sort of a dream come true," Jerome shared in the episode of "One Day At Disney" that profiled his career. "I didn't realize how special it was until he passed." Joe's character was written out of 2010's "Toy Story 3" rather than being recast. When Woody mentions that the gang has "lost friends along the way" offscreen since the prior film, Wheezy is among the toys he names with a frown, but notes they all went on to new owners.

Robert Goulet (Wheezy the Penguin, singing)

Wheezy was thrilled at the end of 1999's "Toy Story 2" when Andy's mom found an extra squeaker and gave the penguin his purpose back. In fact, he promptly burst into a croony, big-band version of "You've Got A Friend In Me." While Wheezy's speaking voice was performed by Joe Ranft, his singing voice for this new rendition of Randy Newman's classic was sung by Robert Goulet. A renowned singer of stage, film, and records for decades, Goulet passed away in 2007 at age 73 of pulmonary fibrosis.

While Goulet's jazzed-up version of "You've Got A Friend In Me" is almost the same as the original, there are a few differences. Where Newman sang solo, Goulet has back-up singers, who in the movie are depicted as Barbie dolls accompanying Wheezy. Matching the glitzy showmanship of Wheezy's version (and indeed, of Goulet, a master of the stage and screen), the line "None of them will ever love you the way I do; just me and you, boy" was changed to "me and you, babe." Wheezy is absent from "Toy Story 3," but it's easy to imagine he's entertaining whichever new room he's joined. Goulet's time in the "Toy Story" universe may have been brief, but it brought a happy ending to another incredible Pixar film, and closure to a penguin who had all but given up hope.

R. Lee Ermey (Sarge)

Green Army Men have a special job in Andy's room. Small, agile, and able to work covertly as a team, they spy on what's happening around the house and report back to the other toys via walkie-talkies. This is especially important for occasions like birthdays and Christmas, when Andy and Molly receive new toys as gifts. With a heads-up from the Green Army Men, the other toys can prepare for the new arrivals. The leader of the troupe is Sarge, voiced in the first three "Toy Story" films by R. Lee Ermey, a larger-than-life talent who passed away in 2018 of pneumonia.

Voicing Sarge wasn't just a role for Ermey. It was part of who he was, having served the United States Marine Corps in Vietnam. "Toy Story" was far from the first time Ermey's authoritative performance portrayed a character in the armed forces on screen. Ermey was hand-selected by no less than Stanley Kubrick to portray the iconic Sergeant Hartman in 1987's "Full Metal Jacket," and would go on to play a number of roles involved with the military or the law.

Ermey's final performance in a "Toy Story" film was 2010's "Toy Story 3," which saw Sarge and the few remaining Green Army Men left in 17-year-old Andy's room ditching the other toys for fear of being thrown away. "We've done our duty," Sarge explains. "Andy's grown up." The film's epilogue shows Sarge and his men arriving at Sunnyside Daycare, where they are welcomed by Barbie to a happy new life.

Bud Luckey (Chuckles)

Chuckles the clown is a small toy with a face of silly joy, smiling and painted different colors just like a real clown. It comes as a comical surprise, then, that Chuckles' voice is actually sullen and melancholy, but altogether calming nonetheless. That's the charm of Bud Luckey, who provided Chuckles' voice for the character's one and only feature film appearance, 2010's "Toy Story 3." Luckey was a longtime Pixar artist who died in 2018 at age 83.

Chuckles, along with Lotso and Big Baby, formerly belonged to a girl named Daisy, then found themselves in Bonnie's care. Chuckles returned for a small role, again voiced by Luckey, in the 2011 short film "Hawaiian Vacation," where he played the ukulele and sang about hula to accentuate Barbie and Ken's faux tropical escape. Chuckles was not shown or mentioned in 2019's "Toy Story 4."

Luckey's grandfatherly voice also gave life to government agent Rick Dicker in "The Incredibles," the narrator in Pixar's 2003 short film "Boundin'," and Eeyore in Disney Animation's 2011 theatrical "Winnie the Pooh" movie. Luckey's contributions to animation went far beyond voice work, however. After animating short films for "Sesame Street," Luckey came to Pixar, where one of his first major influences was designing Woody for the original "Toy Story." His continued career at Pixar would include more character design and visual development on most of the studio's films, all the way through "Toy Story 3."

Jack Angel (Rocky Gibraltar, Shark, and Chunk)

Many eccentric toys make up the ensemble of Andy's room. While not all of them are main characters, their presence makes the room feel alive and vibrant. Their absence is certainly noticed in the unpopulated feel of the room by the time "Toy Story 3" rolls around and Andy is grown up. Two of the background characters that were part of this eclectic toy community in the original "Toy Story" include bodybuilder doll Rocky Gibraltar and a playful plastic shark, both voiced by Jack Angel. Known for an impressive list of voice acting credits spanning Nickelodeon, Hanna-Barbera, and more, Angel passed away in 2021 at age 90.

Rocky mostly sticks to the background throughout "Toy Story," delivering grunts and other reactionary sounds rather than actual lines of dialogue, like when he lowers the ramp of the moving van during the big chase. Angel's shark character, meanwhile, is best remembered for the moment when he mocks Woody, putting on his cowboy hat and teasing, "I'm Woody! Howdy, howdy, howdy!" Though the shark wouldn't appear in any sequels, Angel voiced Rocky again in 1999's "Toy Story 2," the character's final appearance. In "Toy Story 3," Angel portrayed Chunk, a large rock monster in Lotso's gang. Though menacing in appearance, Chunk wasn't very bright. Speaking of Buzz, Chunk said: "He ain't the sharpest knife in the places where they keep the knives." 

Mary Kay Bergman (Yodeling Jessie)

In "Toy Story 2," Woody discovers he's part of a vintage franchise called "Woody's Roundup." Seemingly having originated sometime around the 1950s, the property included an expansive toy line, sidekick friends for Woody, and even a children's television series, which Woody watches in the film. The faux show-within-the-movie depicts Woody, Jessie, Stinky Pete, and Bullseye as marionette puppets singing songs about the wild West and finding themselves in all sorts of adventures. While the character of Jessie was voiced throughout the "Toy Story" series by Joan Cusack, during the clips of the in-universe "Woody's Roundup" show, Jessie's yodeling was instead performed by Mary Kay Bergman. A prolific voice actor, Bergman died of suicide in 1999 just before the release of "Toy Story 2."

Bergman's legacy in animation extends across multiple studios and genres. Among her credits are the Bimbettes flaunting after Gaston in "Beauty and the Beast," Daphne in several "Scooby-Doo" projects, a number of characters on "South Park," and the title character in "Jay Jay The Jet Plane." She is fondly remembered and brought joy to countless people. 

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John Cygan (Twitch)

2010's "Toy Story 3" introduced a handful of rough and tough badguy sidekicks to assist Lotso in making sure Sunnyside Daycare was managed with an iron fist. 

Among Lotso's cronies is Twitch, an anthropomorphized bug action figure somewhat resembling a praying mantis. When Buzz and the rest of Andy's toys arrive at Sunnyside, Twitch calls them "toddler fodder" and "disposable." John Cygan, who voiced Twitch, died of cancer in 2017 at age 63.

Twitch wasn't Cygan's only Pixar voice role, having also done background voice work in "Cars," "Wall-E," and "Up." After "Toy Story 3," he continued his Pixar work with miscellaneous voices in "Monsters University" and "Inside Out." In addition to his long list of non-Pixar voicework in film, television, and video games — including Dash Rendar in various "Star Wars" games — Cygan was known for playing Detective Pantangeli, a.k.a. "Pants," in the '90s dramedy series "The Commish."