Utah's voice of Winnie the Pooh's Rabbit passes away

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 10 2012 6:54 p.m. MDT

HOLLADAY — Utah lost a memorable character this week, and hundreds of interesting voices.

Actor-announcer-storyteller Ken Sansom passed away in Holladay from the effects of a stroke at the age of 85.

At least one of Sansom's voices is familiar to millions of children and ex-children. For more than 20 years, he voiced the part of Rabbit in a series of Winnie The Pooh TV shows and movies.

That's only one of many voices he employed during his decades in the broadcasting and entertainment industries.

"Nobody could keep count," said his son Matt Sansom of Sandy. "But I think they've indicated he could do well over 250 voices."

A half century ago, you might have found Sansom displaying his vocal talents on KSL radio. His show, called "Sansom and Then Some," ran on KSL from 1957 to 1963. On the whimsical, popular program he portrayed many different characters. Sansom once told the Deseret News he was one of the best-paid schizophrenics in the business because he used more than 20 voices on his radio show.

He moved to Hollywood in the 70s and 80s. He never became a big star, but he had parts in dozens of TV shows and movies. Some of them memorable, such as the Paul Newman-Robert Redford classic, "The Sting," in which Sansom had a small speaking part.

He became a workhorse in the advertising industry. In fact, he had so many parts in national radio and TV commercials that, for a few years, it was hard to avoid him.

"I couldn't go anywhere, if I turned on the TV at night, without seeing him on a commercial," Matt Sansom said.

A good example is a series of national television commercials in the 1980s for Del Monte. He played a folksy, avuncular country grocer, dispensing Del Monte canned vegetables to his chatty customers with the highest of praise.

His son and two daughters say their father's death this week left them with sweet and special memories.

Melissa Sansom said her father could change characters at the snap of a finger.

"It would amaze me how he could, like that, turn it on. He was my dad one minute," she said, "and he would put the earphones on and the mike, and all of a sudden he was this different person. And the different characters would come out."

His elastic voice was capable of playing both men and women, old or young.

"One of my favorite memories is the storytelling that he'd do with us before we'd go to bed," said daughter Melanie Sansom Smith. "He could do that in lots of different voices."

His most familiar character was undoubtedly the animated character of Rabbit, the bossy, grouchy friend of Winnie the Pooh. The popular series provided income in Sansom's later years after he moved back to Utah. Rabbit also made Sansom's voice a fixture in the entertainment landscape for an entire generation.

"He was just my dad," said Smith. "You know a lot of people ask me, 'What was it like?' And I'm just like, 'Well, he's Dad.'"

Sansom left behind nine grandkids, 16 great grandchildren and a legion of admirers. His colleagues in the broadcast industry inducted him into the Utah Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

E-mail: hollenhorst@desnews.com

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