Bill Cunningham, Original Voice of Barbie's Ken, Dead at 96

Bill Cunningham, who provided the voice to Barbie's boyfriend Ken for Mattel during the early 1960s, died on July 15 at his West Hollywood home. He was 96.

By Gabrielle Chung Jul 28, 2023 2:13 AMTags
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Barbieland has lost a Ken.

Bill Cunningham—the original voice of Barbie's boyfriend Ken—died on July 15 at his West Hollywood home, according to CESD Talent Agency, the company he founded more than five decades ago. He was 96.

The businessman was "among the great innovators and gentlemen of the talent representation business," CESD partners Ken Slevin and Paul Doherty said in a statement Deadline. "Bill set the template for client and customer service, particularly in commercial, voice-over and print. He was a warm, gregarious, classy man who made a positive impact on all those he represented and employed."

The two added, "It was our honor to know him and to learn from him."

A cause of death was not given.

Born in San Francisco, Cunningham served in the U.S. Navy before finding his footing in Hollywood as a singer. He appeared on Voices of Walter Schumann and The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, as well as performed on various movie soundtracks for Fox, Paramount and Warner Bros. 

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Cunningham released his debut album I'm Always Chasing Rainbows, which was financed by Fred Astaire, in 1962. During his musical stint, Cunningham also served as the voice of Ken for Mattel and provided vocals on the toy company's Barbie records.

He pivoted careers in 1963, opening the Pacific Artists Agency at the encouragement of his friend and fellow singer Peggy Taylor. The Los Angeles-based agency, which represents voice-overs actors, rebranded itself as Cunningham & Associates and expanded its operations to New York by 1971, when T.J. Escott bought the firm.

Slevin and Doherty joined the agency in the 1980s. When the two were made partners in 2005—16 years after Cunningham retired from his post—the company was renamed to Cunningham-Escott-Slevin-Doherty (CESD) Talent Agency.


CESD Talent Agency/Instagram

Cunningham's autobiographyI Wonder What Became of Me, was published in 2014.

CESD is now "one of the nation's most prestigious commercial, voice-over, print, digital influencer, theatrical/TV-film and young performer talent agencies and a dominant force in our industry" and boasts 32 agents in two offices, according its website

Cunningham is survived by friends and family, including his nephews and nieces KirkKevinKristen, JanetBarbara and Debbie, per The Hollywood Reporter.

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