Johnny Hardwick, who voiced the chain-smoking exterminator Dale Gribble for the entire 13-season run of the Fox animated hit King of the Hill, has died. He was 64.

Officers responding to a call for a welfare check found Hardwick dead in his home in Austin on Tuesday, police said, adding that the case is not being investigated as a homicide and that the cause of death will be determined by the medical examiner’s office.

Hardwick voiced Dale — the conspiracy theorist who lives next door to his best friend, propane accessory salesman Hank Hill (co-creator Mike Judge), and uses pocket sand when necessary — from 1997-2010 and was a writer, story editor and producer on the show as well.

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The animators were said to have drawn Dale to look (and smoke) just like Hardwick, and he appeared on more than 250 episodes. He shared an Emmy for outstanding animated program in 1999 and was nominated again in 2001 and ’02.

“It was the dream job of all time, like winning the lottery times 10,” he said in a 2019 interview.

He also had a YouTube channel on which he would perform songs as Dale.

“Johnny Hardwick was an incredibly beloved member of the King of the Hill family, whose tremendous talent, brilliant humor and friendship will be deeply missed by all who were fortunate enough to work with him over the past 25 years,” 20th Television Animation and Hulu said in a statement.

“Our deepest condolences go out to his friends and family as we mourn the loss of one of the animation greats. His voice gave life to one of our most iconic characters, and he will be truly missed.”

Hardwick said he loved working on the show because he didn’t have to put on makeup or memorize lines. “I did it the whole time and was completely anonymous … that’s meant so much to me,” he said.

Hardwick was set to participate in a revival of King of the Hill at Hulu, it was announced in January, with other original actors Kathy Najimy, Stephen Root, Pamela Adlon and Lauren Tom signing on as well.

Sources say he had recorded a couple of new episodes but had not completed his work. It’s unclear what Disney, which owns and produces the show, will do in terms of his character.

Dale Gribble in KING OF THE HILL

Johnny Hardwick voiced Dale Gribble on ‘King of the Hill’ 20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

Born in Houston in 1958, John Michael Hardwick graduated from Texas Tech University with a degree in journalism, worked as a stand-up at clubs like the Velveeta Room in Austin and was the first comic on Jon Stewart’s MTV show. He was offered a sitcom at NBC, but that did not work out.

King of the Hill co-creator Greg Daniels hired Hardwick for a writing job after seeing him perform at The Improv in Los Angeles, and he went to work for him rather than taking another offer to serve as a regular on the MTV series Austin Stories.

Daniel Stern was hired to voice Dale but got into a dispute over money and was replaced by Hardwick in time for the pilot.

“Apparently, he wanted a whole bunch of money and they weren’t willing to negotiate with him, so I ended up getting the part,” he told The Austin Chronicle in 1999. “And, you know, it’s pretty much his loss since we’ve been able to renegotiate since then. I don’t think he had the imagination to see what the show could be.

“I thought that in the pilot [Dale] was written to be pretty dumb — he was mispronouncing things and all kinds of weird stuff. I ended up kind of basing his attitude on if he thought he was Jack Nicholson but he wasn’t, or if he just thought he was the coolest guy around, like Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dazed and Confused. The thing that they did have in Mike’s original pilot was that he was a conspiracy person, which I thought was a great touch.”

Hardwick noted that Daniels gave all the writers on the show Philip K. Howard’s 1995 book The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America. “It’s about the run-in with bureaucracy, and because of those rules, we end up with people in prison who shouldn’t be in prison or just whatever,” he said. “It’s all these crazy things that are happening.”

Johnny Hardwick and his dog Willy Ray

Johnny Hardwick with his dog Willy Ray in May. Courtesy of Scott St. Louis

Hardwick had been working for the past few years on a project called Trailer Metal with King of the Hill colleague Randy Kubaszak and animator-musician Scott St. Louis. Hardwick put his voice on the trailer a few weeks ago, and “it was his very last recording,” Kubaszak told The Hollywood Reporter.

“He was very proud of what we created and was looking forward for the world to see his creation,” he said. “His writing and talent will never be duplicated. He was the most talented writer I ever worked with.”

The creators were “getting ready to go out and pitch,” Kubaszak added.

Abbey White and Lesley Goldberg contributed to this report.

Source: Hollywood

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