Bill Cunningham, the original voice of Barbie’s boyfriend Ken for Mattel during the early 1960s, has passed away at the age of 96. Cunningham, who was also a singer and the founder of CESD Talent Agency, died on July 15 at his home in West Hollywood, California. The news was confirmed by CESD Talent Agency, which Cunningham co-founded in 1963.
Born in San Francisco in 1927, Cunningham began his career as a singer on NBC’s ‘Voices of Walter Schumann’ and ‘The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show.’ He went on to sing on movie soundtracks for major Hollywood studios and appeared in numerous commercials. Cunningham’s most notable role was as the original voice of Ken in Mattel’s early Barbie records.
In 1963, Cunningham made a career switch and invested his life savings into founding Pacific Artists Agency, which later became Cunningham & Associates. The agency specialized in commercial and voice-over work and grew to become one of the most successful talent agencies in Hollywood. It is now known as CESD Talent Agency and is led by partners Ken Slevin and Paul Doherty.
Cunningham’s impact on the talent representation business was significant. He set the template for client and customer service, particularly in the areas of commercial, voice-over, and print. His warm and gregarious personality made a positive impact on all those he represented and employed. Cunningham’s legacy lives on through the agency he founded, which continues to be a dominant force in the industry.
In addition to his work in the entertainment industry, Cunningham served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He performed with the Fort Emory Drum and Bugle Corp and toured throughout the Pacific theater. After the war, he pursued his singing career and had the opportunity to tour with renowned artists such as Judy Garland and Dinah Shore.
Cunningham retired in 1989 and published his autobiography, ‘I Wonder What Became of Me,’ in 2014. He is survived by his nephews and nieces, Kirk, Kevin, Kristen, Janet, Barbara, and Debbie.
The passing of Bill Cunningham marks the end of an era for the voice of Ken, a beloved character in the Barbie franchise. His contributions to the entertainment industry and the talent representation business will always be remembered and celebrated. Cunningham’s warm and classy demeanor made a lasting impact on those who knew him, and his legacy will continue to inspire future generations of artists and talent agents.