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'Speed Racer' voice Peter Fernandez dies at 83

Peter Fernandez, best known as the title character's voice in the animated "Speed Racer" TV series, died Thursday from lung cancer at age 83, Anime News Network reported.
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Peter Fernandez, best known as the title character's voice in the animated "Speed Racer" TV series, died Thursday from lung cancer at age 83, Anime News Network reported.

Fernandez not only voiced Speed himself, but also his brother Racer X and several other characters in the English-dubbed adaptation of Tatsunoko's "Mach Go Go Go" anime series, the Internet site said. He also directed the voice cast and even wrote the lyrics to the signature theme song used in the show imported from Japan in 1967. He later played Lupin III, Daisuke Jigen, and President Jimmy Carter in a dubbed version of "Lupin III: The Secret of Mamo."

His voice can be heard in such dubbed anime titles as "Astro Boy," "Gigantor," "Marine Boy," "Star Blazers: The Bolar Wars," and "Superbook." He made a cameo appearance as an announcer in the 2008 live-action "Speed Racer" film, Anime News Network said.

Corinne Orr, the actress who played Speed Racer's romantic interest Trixie and younger brother Sprittle Racer, spoke with Fernandez as recently as last week, the Anime News Network said. The two had worked together on 200 productions, and she noted that he was a big star on radio and Broadway and had starred in the 1949 film "City Across the River" where Tony Curtis only had a bit part."

Orr is the last surviving member of the "Speed Racer" main cast.

Orr told the Web site, "His great joy was doing all these conventions and receiving the acknowledgement and accolades from all his fans at the end of his life."

Producer and anime distributor William Winckler told Anime News Network that he was glad that renewed interest accompanying the 2008 live-action Speed Racer film, Fernandez "finally got the attention and respect he deserved from the general public and mainstream press."

"Anime and Japanese live-action fantasy will never be the same without him. Peter's contribution to anime and Japanese live-action will live forever."

Fernandez's family is planning a private service, but there are plans for a public celebration of his life in September in Pomona, New York.

Fernandez had posted on his MySpace page that he started he career at age 7 as a model for the John Robert Powers Agency. He describes a long show-business career.

"I worked on both radio and Broadway acting in such Golden Age radio shows as 'Mr. District Attorney,' 'Suspense,' 'Gangbusters' and 'The Adventures of Superman.' Some of my regular roles were as George Bigelow on 'The Aldrich Family' and as Jerry on 'The Sea Hound.' During my stint in the Broadway play 'Watch on the Rhine,' the cast was invited to the White House to meet President Franklin Roosevelt."

He was on Broadway in "Whiteoaks" with Ethel Barrymore at 11, according to The New York Times, which interviewed him in 2008 just ahead of the "Speed Racer" live-action movie's release.

Fernandez conceded to the Times that he would be best remembered as Speed Racer.

"I keep saying to myself, 'Of all the things you've done in show business, this is the one thing that's recognized,' " he told the Times.

"The only instructions I got was to Americanize it," he said of his work on the show. "It was a challenging assignment, because the episodes would come in sporadically and with only rough translations. "I never knew what was coming next."

"When a new character appeared — a very sinister-looking driver with what looked like an X on him — I called him Racer X," he continued. "I found out later he was Speed’s brother."

"I had the most fun thinking of the villain names and slipping in a few adult humor lines," Mr. Fernandez said. But the comedy was more arch or trippy than racy. "An example is 'This dangerous situation is becoming dangerous.' "

The Times said Fernandez was treated like royalty at comic book and anime conventions, the Times said in 2008.

Fernandez was born in Manhattan, New York on January 29, 1927, according to his official biography. His parents were from Cuba.

He lived in Pomona, New York, "along with ducks, chickens, geese, cats and many other animals that want love and affection."

In 1978, he married Noel Smith, a writer and poet.