Will Ryan, who lent his unmistakable voice to countless shows and songs at Disney and elsewhere, died of cancer on November 19. He was 72.
As one half of novelty country act Willio and Phillio, Ryan found cult success which he parlayed into a long career as a voice artist and musician. The Walt Disney Company spotted his talents early, hiring him to write and perform comic songs on records.
Before long, Ryan was voicing characters like Willie the Giant and Peg-Leg Pete in the 1983 short Mickey’s Christmas Carol and Rabbit in another short project from the same year, Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore. He’d return to all of these characters in future shows, while performing on other productions such as The Little Mermaid and Ducktales.
But Ryan wasn’t exclusive to Disney. One of his most enduring performances was as Petrie the anxious pteranodon in Don Bluth’s 1988 feature The Land Before Time. He picked up credits on the likes of Family Guy, The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin, G.I. Joe, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Garfield and Friends, and Smurfs, as well as non-animated projects like The Jim Henson Company’s puppet show The Wubbulous World of Doctor Seuss — for which, as a producer, he was nominated for a Primetime Emmy — and the long-running Christian radio series Adventures in Odyssey.
Ryan continued to work as a singer-songwriter throughout, composing more than 100 songs in all, many of which were sung by Disney characters. He was a prominent figure in the animation industry, serving as president of industry organization ASIFA-Hollywood.
He also engaged with animation history, to which he paid tribute by creating the character Elmo Aardvark, a pastiche of early cartoon characters, in the 1990s. With the help of others, Ryan developed a false backstory for Elmo, presenting him as a precursor to Mickey Mouse. A mockumentary about the character planned at Nickelodeon fell through, but Ryan revived the character for the 2000 web series Elmo Aardvark: Outer Space Detective, which won an Annie Award.
Ryan is survived by his wife Nancy Niparko Ryan, and siblings Patty Ryan, Marsha Ryan Russo, and George Ryan.