For fans of 80s and 90s cartoons like yours truly, it’s been a bit of a weird start to this week. Just yesterday, we learned that legendary voice/casting director Andrea Romano would be retiring, that FUNimation might just be getting new ownership, and that the long-running manga One Piece is getting a live-action TV series adaptation. That’s a lot of animation news in one day. Today continues that trend with word of veteran voice actor Rob Paulsen speaking publicly about his battle with throat cancer that threatened to end his career, if not his life, and his road to recovery to get back into the recording booth.
Speaking with THR‘s Heat Vision, Paulsen was quite candid about his diagnosis back in 2016 and the aggressive path of treatment he embarked on with the help of his doctor, friends, and family. The voice of iconic characters like Yakko and Pinky from Animaniacs to two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles–Raphael in the 1987 series and Donatello in the modern version–Paulsen has long been active in the voice acting community, but cancer nearly took that all away.
There was a knot on the left side of my neck. I noticed it about a year before I was diagnosed. When I went in for my yearly physical, my doctor felt it and said, ‘That’s not good’ … within two weeks, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 metastatic squamous cell carcinoma with occult primary. What that means is, the lump on my neck was cancer that had migrated from another area and the doctors didn’t know where that was.
My livelihood depends on me speaking. They told me the treatment would kick my ass, and they weren’t sure what effect the radiation would have on my vocal cords. They said, ‘If we don’t do this now and start treatment, you’re going to end up like Roger Ebert.’
That treatment included daily radiation and chemotherapy sessions over the course of seven weeks, costing him 50 pounds and the function of both his taste buds and his salivary glands.
I could be eating cardboard or a ball of yarn, I couldn’t tell the difference. That’s a quality of life thing that’s a drag, but I’m hopeful that some of it will come back. They said I won’t be 100 percent for two years, so I’ve still got a year to go. It could’ve been a lot worse … I spend a lot of time with sick kids and terminally ill fans. I’ve seen what they go through. I’m very lucky and blessed.
Luckily, Paulsen appears to be on the mend, showing no signs of cancer and no lasting effects on his voice. That’s good news for fans of his characters and series, and better news for Paulsen who can now resume his normal work routine thanks to the loyalty of his fans and his employers:
Dreamworks, Nickelodeon, and Disney could have easily replaced me, but they saved my jobs until I was able to go back to work. I can’t say enough about how kind they’ve been to me.
Be sure to check out THR’s full write-up for more on Paulsen’s career, like how he transitioned from Flint, Michigan cover band musician to world-renowned voice actor. We wish him a continued recovery and many more years of success ahead!