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R.I.P. Erik Bauersfeld, Star Wars’ Admiral Ackbar

(Photo: San Francisco Chronicle)
(Photo: San Francisco Chronicle)

As confirmed by The Hollywood Reporter, radio dramatist and voice actor Erik Bauersfeld, best known for playing Admiral Ackbar in the Star Wars movies, has died. He was 93.

Bauersfeld was born in Brooklyn in 1922, and in an interview with SFGate in 2011, he remembered the first time he encountered a radio. “They turned it on and I heard this sound. And it was explosive,” Bauersfeld said, adding “It was a simple sound, but to me it was something coming from nothing. I sat in amazement at it.” The interview says Bauersfeld suffered from too much stage fright to be an actor, but he began working at a radio station in California in the ‘60s and would go on to produce dozens of radio dramas. Eventually, he met Oscar-winning sound designer Randy Thom, and one day while the two of them were working on a radio project at Lucasfilm’s studios, Bauersfeld was asked to read for a pair of roles in Star Wars: Episode VI—Return Of The Jedi.

One of the roles was for Admiral Ackbar, the sea creature-like Rebel Alliance officer who appears in the final battle (the physical character was played by puppeteer Tim Rose). Bauersfeld says he was given no direction for how to play the part, but he knew what the voice had to sound like as soon as he saw a picture of him. Bauersfeld spent only an hour recording all of Ackbar’s lines, and then he did another 30 minutes of recording for Bib Fortuna, Jabba The Hutt’s tentacle-headed lackey who only speaks in a made-up language. Fortuna doesn’t play a very big part in the movie, but one of Ackbar’s lines (you know the one) would eventually go on to become an especially iconic quote in a series full of iconic quotes—largely due to Bauersfeld’s performance.

Bauersfeld didn’t get an on-screen credit for his parts in Return Of The Jedi, and he says it was years before fans figured it out and started sending him requests for autographs. He was “quite pleased” by the appreciation, though, even if he barely remembered doing the job, and he would respond to everyone who sent him a letter. As the years went on, though, he found it harder and harder to do the Ackbar voice for people, simply because he didn’t really remember Return Of The Jedi that well.

Though he continued working in radio for the rest of his career, Bauersfeld did reprise his role as Ackbar in the Star Wars: X-Wing video game and for a brief appearance in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

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