Phil Harris, 1956 (NBC Television/Wikimedia Commons)
Phil Harris would have turned 110 this week. Movie fans may not know his name now, but they're probably familiar with names like Baloo, Little John and Patou. Harris gave voice to each of them, and many more, during his long and prolific career. His unique mixture of velvety rasp and slight Southern drawl made him unforgettable in a string of animated films from the 1960s to the 1980s. Here is one of his most memorable moments, from Walt Disney's The Jungle Book.
Before he brought life to animated characters, Harris was a bit of a character himself. In the 1930s, Harris began working as the musical director for Jack Benny's radio show, eventually joining the cast as a wisecracking version of himself in addition to his musical duties. In the late 1940s and early ’50s, he and his wife, actress Alice Faye, starred in their own radio sitcom, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, proving successful for NBC and adding to the couple’s star power.
After the show ended, Harris returned to his musical career and took to television as a frequent guest on many popular programs of the day. Here he is with Dean Martin in a tea-party sketch that plays against the boozehound reputations of both men.
However, Harris' greatest success and his most enduring legacy came from his work as a voice actor. Songs like "The Bare Necessities," "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat" and "The Phony King of England" secured Harris a place in the history of film as one of the industry's most beloved voices. Four years after his last role, Harris died Aug. 11, 1995, at his home in Rancho Mirage, California, at age 91.