Five Famous Voices That Are Actually Fake
There are certain voices you’d recognize anywhere: the “in a world” movie trailer guy, the dudes who sing the “Chili’s babyback ribs” song,” your mom (probably). So what if, one day, your mom confessed she’d been speaking in a completely artificial voice for your entire childhood and revealed that she’s actually a dead vocal ringer for Barry White? It would be unsettling, right?
Almost as unsettling as these celebrities, who have been sonically gaslighting us for decades…
Along with the sounds of a straw puncturing a bag of Capri Sun and a perfect kickflip, Gilbert Gottfried’s voice was one of the iconic sounds of the 1990s. He so completely embodied the concept of screeching that Disney designed their most famous parrot with him in mind and accepted no substitutes when it came to casting. As a result, Howard Stern ruined everyone’s childhoods, as he is wont to do, when he played a private voicemail from Gottfried on his radio show in 2014, unveiling the soft, slightly Brooklyn-accented voice the actor apparently uses when nobody is watching (listening?).
“I never actually sat down and said, ‘I’m gonna talk this way,’” Gottfried explained when the public demanded an explanation. “To me it’s kind of like if you see anybody walking down the street or sipping their cup of coffee and you ask them, ‘How did you develop that walk? How did you develop that way of holding a coffee cup?’ There’s no thought to it, just over years, that’s what you are.”
At least in terms of his comedic persona, that is. He eventually stopped using his real voice whenever he interacted with the public because “people will act strange if I don’t act the way they want me to act,” trapping himself in a birdcage of his own making.
Women performing certain kinds of public roles have been using what can only be described as a “sexy baby” voice since the days of Marilyn Monroe, but the person most associated with it in the current century is undoubtedly Paris Hilton. You can’t hear her legally trademarked catchphrase without it. As far back as 2015, however, she dropped the charade that, much like the rest of her, it was in any way natural. Now, every few years — such as when she got in a recording booth to show off her several voices in a 2020 documentary and again after a 2023 morning show appearance — we get headlines expressing shock that a woman in her 40s doesn’t speak like an infant.
According to her mother, Hilton developed the voice as a child to use “when she’s shy or when she wants something,” but Hilton says she later made it part of a “character that I invented as a trauma response … this kind of perfect-life Barbie doll character just to not have to think of the trauma that I went through. And then when I got The Simple Life, then I had to continue playing that character season after season. And then going into interviews and doing it. And I feel that it was almost — or, it is and it was — a mask where I just felt like I could be someone else.”
It seems like she could have picked someone slightly less hateable, but do you, Paris.
Larry the Cable Guy
Dive under the nearest table because we’re about to drop several bombs on you. Firstly, Larry the Cable Guy isn’t Southern. He was born and raised for most of his life in Nebraska, then moved to Florida when he was 16, never spending any appreciable amount of time in the South until he was an adult, as far as we can tell. Also, his real name is Dan Whitney. Also, he’s not a cable guy, but Dan the Drama and Speech Student just didn’t roll off the tongue.
Whitney claims he began to naturally pick up the accent in Florida from the “country folks” he hung out with in the, uh, infamously rural community of West Palm Beach, but he began actively playing with it when he went to college in Georgia and lived with Southern roommates. In 2004, he claimed his parents were the only people who ever heard his natural accent anymore, but he’s since busted it out in interviews like the one above with Graham Bensinger, in which he describes himself as a “linguistic chameleon” who picks up accents everywhere he goes. He also somewhat problematically compares it to the code-switching he’s observed in George Lopez because it turns out Larry the Cable Guy is only kind of a character.
In addition to stunts like walking a tightrope naked over an alligator and shoving fireworks up his ass, Jackass star Steve-O is best known for having a voice that sounds like he shoved the fireworks somewhere else. For years, he had a few theories about why that is. “Honestly, I always thought that my world record for barfing the most on television might have something to do with it,” he said. He also cited his on-camera habit of “chewing and swallowing glass” and history of drug abuse, specifically nitrous oxide. "God, I did so much of that stuff. I would buy 600 at a time, and that would only last me 24 to 36 hours. Sheesh!" We don’t know a lot about huffing — is 600 nitrous oxide a lot?
Regardless, after seeing an otolaryngologist (fancy for “voice doctor”), he found out that the real reason he sounds like a rock caught in a lawnmower is that he learned to talk with the muscles of his throat rather than his vocal cords. “Wow, doc, like, you’re telling me, after everything I’ve been through, I just suck at talking?” he recalled thinking on a 2022 episode of his podcast, Wild Ride!, before demonstrating his “real” voice — how he sounds when he uses his vocal chords. Spoiler: The answer is “American Benedict Cumberbatch.” No, thank you. Please continue shredding your throat, Steve-O.
If you ask someone to do a Michael Jackson impression, they’ll most likely bust out a squeaky “HEE-hee!” accompanied by some wild kicking and/or anti-gravity tilting, depending on how good their balance is. His almost Paris Hilton-like voice has been parodied by just about everyone who did parodies in the 1990s and even inspired entire conspiracy theories to explain how a grown man’s voice could be so high. That’s why fans were so surprised in 2022, when a clip surfaced purportedly featuring Jackson showing off a much deeper voice during a performance of “In the Closet,” an unfortunately named song for his “adamantly heterosexual” era.
Many dismissed the clip as digitally altered, and it definitely sounds fake as shit, but that might just be because we’re so used to the voice he wanted us to hear. Several members of Jackson’s inner circle — including ex-wife Lisa Marie Presley, friends Oprah Winfrey and Liza Minnelli, biographer Diane Dimond, and musical director Samm Brown — have confirmed that when the cameras were off, he spoke in a deep, “normal” voice. Minnelli believes he used a different voice to separate his public and private personas, while music scholars have suggested that it was a method of preserving his singing range, which is apparently a “use it or lose it” situation.
Whatever the case, he definitely did break out his “real” voice in public occasionally, and it was heard rather grimly in recordings made by his doctor during the trial that decided whether he was responsible for the King of Pop’s death. It’s not as cartoonishly manly as the clip that went viral, but it certainly seems to suggest a side of him he felt he couldn’t usually share with the public, and however you feel about the guy, he was probably right.