Russi Taylor has died. A prolific voice actor, Taylor’s credits stretch across a massive swathe of the animation history of the last 40 years—but she’ll probably be best known, and loved, around these parts for the decades she spent playing the perfect portrait of a kiss-ass alpha nerd, Martin Prince, on The Simpsons. (To say nothing of her work as fellow classmates Üter, Terri, and Sherri.)
Taylor started her career with Hanna-Barbera, voicing characters for The Flintstone Comedy Show in the early ’80s. Eventually, though, she’d work for just about everybody in the animation biz—especially Disney, where she was hired in 1986 to take on the voice of Minnie Mouse, a role that she would continue to perform regularly for the rest of her life. (Amazingly, the character had gone completely unvoiced for the proceeding 12 years before she took on the part.) Taylor’s voice as Minnie was eminently adaptable to any situation the script demanded: Sassy, sweet, or scolding, providing a recognizable throughline for a character whose base identity could often shift from usage to usage.
Not that that was Taylor’s only contribution to the Disney canon; she also voiced Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Webby on the original DuckTales—thus making up a decent chunk of the show’s voice cast all on her own. Fittingly, she was recognized as a Disney Legend in 2008 alongside her husband, Wayne Allwine—a.k.a. the voice of Mickey Mouse, who she met on the job, and married in 1991. (The two would remain together until Allwine’s death in 2009.)
To look through Taylor’s resumé is, for a reader of a certain age, to page through a scrapbook of your entire animated childhood. Her regular roles included Gonzo on The Muppet Babies, McDonald’s character Birdie in a variety of commercials, and Widget The World Watcher, to say nothing of her single-episode roles on dozens upon dozens of other shows. (Her specialty: Convincing non-verbal baby gurglings.)
And then, of course, there’s Martin. Like so many Springfield residents, 29 years of lived-in existence have turned a character originally built around a single joke into one who contains multitudes, and it was Taylor—her voice embodying hundreds of different nuances of irritating enthusiasm—who provided the life in question. To list favorite Martin Prince moments would be to be here all day (it was hard enough to keep ourselves to three smallish clips), but it’s worth acknowledging the qualities that Taylor brought to the character—most notably his boundless confidence, a belief that of course everyone else was going to be just as excited for spelling, or arrowhead collecting, or answering questions in class as he, himself, might be. To be a great Simpsons character is to be, pretty much by default, one of the great comedy characters of the modern generation. Martin is a great Simpsons character, and much of that greatness rests on Taylor’s lifetime of work.
She was 75.