Man of Substance
By the time Conrad died of cardiac arrest last week in Hollywood at age 73, he'd lost 70 pounds due to ill health. But his appeal was shrink-proof. "People accepted him as the gruff, rough curmudgeon. Underneath, he was just a nice man," says TV executive Fred Silverman, who cast Conrad in two top-rated CBS series, Cannon (1971-76) and Fatman (1987-92). But heft was only half his presence: His resonant, booming voice proved perfect narrating The Fugitive and Bullwinkle cartoons. "When he did the narration on Bull-winkle, he turned comedic," says June Foray, the voice of Rocky the flying squirrel. "He lost all of his great profound voice, and it became hysterical."
It was, in fact, that voice that launched the Louisville, Ky., native into show business in the '40s; by his own reckoning, his résumé included 7,500 radio jobs, including Marshal Matt Dillon on the original Gun-smoke. Later, when he finally found TV stardom, Conrad still loved mouthing off. "Cannon was crap," he groused after the show's run. "I was delighted to sec it canceled."
His bulldog snarling was far worse than his bite. He lived quietly in Los Angeles with wife Tippy, widow of NBC newsman diet Huntley. (He had a son, Christopher, 37, by first wife Susie, who died in 1979.) "Bill loved music, he loved travel, he loved food. He had many appetites," recalls Dean Hargrove, a Fatman producer. Says Tippy Conrad: "You get a guy like Bill, he simply wasn't concerned about whether he was successful or not. He just had a strong notion about what he wanted, and he went ahead and did it."