I was born in 1985. While this may not seem important, it put me at the perfect age to catch onto the cultural phenomenon that was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with the launch of the first cartoon series in 1987 and the corresponding line of action figures from Playmates Toys in 1988. While I was unaware of the original comic book from Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird until several years later, I loved nothing more than the TMNT cartoon and all the action figures I got as birthday and Christmas presents as a child. I even had a few issues of the Archie Comics TMNT Adventures bought by my mother or grandmother off the spinner rack at the local grocery store.
What I did not know about TMNT, or have any semblance of, were the voice actors who brought these anthropomorphic turtles to life. To me, the four Turtle brothers – Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael – were absolutely real. As I grew older, I of course began to understand the concept of voice acting and cartoon voices that real people created to give these characters depth, personality, and intrigue. One of those voice actors in that original 1987 TMNT cartoon, providing the voice of Raphael, was Mr. Rob Paulsen.
If you were to take a look at Rob’s IMDb page, you could spend hours poring over the number of characters he’s voiced and brought to life throughout his career. Highlights include Yakko from “Animaniacs,” Pinky from “Pinky and the Brain,” Carl Wheezer from “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius,” along with thousands of other roles. (Who remembers “Biker Mice from Mars”? I know I do.) Again, growing up in the 90s, I was at the prime age to watch cartoons where Rob provided at least one voice, if not several. Now, I of course didn’t know at the time that Rob voiced these characters, because all my young mind cared about was the next show that was coming on the air. But once I learned his name, it was one that I have never forgotten.
Rob’s book, Voice Lessons: How a Couple of Ninja Turtles, Pinky, and an Animaniac Saved My Life, chronicles his beginnings in Michigan and follows his journey to Hollywood to seek a career as an on-screen actor. He had some early bit parts in movies and did commercials for fast food chains such as Jack In The Box, but it was his voice acting in projects such as “The Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bible” and “G.I. Joe” that set him on the path that he continues on today. What this book does more than anything, however, is provide insight into not only the trials and tribulations of making it as any sort of actor in Hollywood, but the personal obstacles that one must overcome to truly understand who they are. The first few chapters of this book act as a biography and history lesson, but when Rob begins speaking about his cancer diagnosis in 2016 and reflects on the life he’s had so far, and what life might or might not look like in his future, that’s when the true heart of the book begins to shine through.
Rob details the treatments and medications that helped him combat what turned out to be Stage III throat cancer, but what he does better than anything in the book is show the reader how perseverance, hope, and a strong support system of friends and family can help you overcome anything. Rob’s personal convictions of wanting to continue to live life to the fullest are defined by the stories he tells of past voice acting jobs and characters, along with continuing to book jobs and make public appearances while undergoing cancer treatment and dealing with weight loss, lack of appetite, and the harrowing truth that life may have something else in store for him. The irony of a voice actor having throat cancer is not lost on Rob one bit, and the level of humor and levity he brings to his diagnosis is inspiring, if not downright amazing.
The book continues up to almost present day, with Rob finishing his treatments as the cancer goes into remission, and finding a new perspective on what’s most important to him in life. He’s been back to work voicing characters both old and new for a few years now, and for someone who grew up with Rob’s voices on my TV every weekday afternoon and Saturday morning, I am so thrilled that the world is still able to experience the extraordinary talent that is Rob Paulsen. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a tale of relentless optimism and bravery, while also getting a glimpse into the world of Hollywood voice acting. It will hopefully, as it did for me, help you to not take anything for granted, and to cherish what each of us has been given – a short amount of time on this Earth to share our gifts with others, just as Rob has done for decades.