Franz W. Russell: 1937-2008 'You can't top the Coppertop'

Posted: June 11, 2008 - 11:30pm  |   
Franz and I became friends when we both lived in Uxbridge. About once a month we would take an afternoon off to play gin rummy and drink beer. We remained good friends and I talked to him just a few weeks before his death.

Russell  Savannah Morning News
Franz Russell


GUYTON - You might not have recognized Franz Russell if he had walked up and introduced himself, but you likely would have recognized him when he spoke to you.
His renowned voice was the foundation to dozens of television and radio commercials, including advertisements for AT&T, Budweiser, Chevron, Duracell, Juicy Juice, PBS and Shake & Bake.
Russell, 71, died Sunday of heart failure at his Guyton home.
"He was one of those wonderful larger-than-life people who always said: It's not the destination in life that makes it so great, but the journey," his wife, Robin, said Wednesday. "And he did indeed have a wonderful life, with some really great adventures."


Click play to listen to some of Franz Russell's most memorable commercials.

The native Canadian and naturalized American was a four-time winner of the Clio Award that recognizes creativity in advertising. For years, he was the voice of Duracell, filling the air space in living rooms across America with the bold message: "You can't top the Coppertop."
While his widespread popularity in the United States is mostly contained to the comforting sound of his voice, diehard television and movie buffs know Russell from the 1970s Canadian sitcom "The Trouble with Tracy."
He co-starred with Raymond Massey in the Canadian Broadcasting Corp./Public Broadcasting Corp. television special "Two Arctic Tales" and had a co-starring role in the motion picture "Paperback Hero" with Keir Dullea and Elizabeth Ashley.
He cohorted with the likes of Jonathan Winters, Lee Majors, Shirley Jones, Robert Mitchum, James Farentino and Michelle Lee.
Russell spent 28 years as a successful stage, television and film actor in Canada before moving to New York in 1984 and kickstarting his career in radio and television voice-overs.
He and his wife ventured into producing industrial films and television commercials, and as a team they were instrumental in conceptualizing Gastown Productions, a full television post-production facility best known for its involvement in such series successes as "X-Files," "Highlander," and numerous Stephen J. Canell productions.
The Russells moved to Hilton Head Island in the 1990s and worked together on radio shows such as WLOW, a Hilton Head "big band station," and for a short time had their own talk show on WHHR, also a Hilton Head radio station.
After a 22-year hiatus from the stage, Russell appeared on the Savannah stage in 1996 as Kris Kringle in Meredith Wilson's version of "Miracle on 34th Street," called "Here's Love."
He got the idea to audition for the role when he realized his own daughter and a granddaughter had never seen him act on stage.
"I did it so they could see me. I walked in there with my resume and my picture. I do have a white beard," he said in a 2006 interview. "Of course, I laughed when I saw what the role was."
Russell is survived by his wife and partner of 39 years, Robin; daughter Brett Smith, wife of Franklin D. Smith; granddaughters Taylor and Reghan; stepson Allan Macdonell, and a sister, Beth Russell of Toronto.
Memorial services are set for 2 p.m. Sunday at Fairhaven Funeral Home in Garden City.

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