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Though his place in pop culture history was cemented by his Emmy-nominated role as know-it-all postman Cliff Clavin on the hit television series "Cheers" (NBC, 1982-1993), actor John Ratzenberger enjoyed a long and diverse career in all aspects of the entertainment industry. A solid character actor in such fanboy classics as "Superman: The Movie" and "The Empire Strikes Back," Ratzenberger would be one of the few "Cheers" castmembers to find consistent work, whether on behind the scenes as a TV series director, or on the big screen, voicing classic characters like Hamm the piggy bank so brilliantly in the "Toy Story" film franchise. Surprising fans of the awkward Cliffy Clavin, Ratzenberger proved there was still a spring in his step when, following a last minute cancellation by portly actor Vincent Pastore, the beloved actor filled the open dance card on the phenomenally successful series, "Dancing with the Stars" (ABC, 2005- ). Meanwhile, Ratzenberger enjoyed a successful voiceover career, plying his distinctive voice to a number of Pixar hits like the "Toy Story" series, "Finding Nemo" (2003), "Ratatouille" (2007), and "Up" (2009). Whether co-starring on a live action series or in hit animated movies, Ratzenberger maintained a steady presence on screens big and small.
Born April 6, 1947 in Black Rock, near Bridgeport, CT, Ratzenberger's interest in performing began while in grade school. He continued to act on stage throughout his college years at Sacred Heart University. While there, he co-founded an improvisational troupe called Sal's Meat Market, directing numerous student productions. In 1971, Ratzenberger parlayed a tax refund check into a one-way ticket to England, where he reestablished Sal's Meat Market and performed throughout Europe to considerable acclaim, as well as a British Arts Council Grant. While on the continent, Ratzenberger began appearing in minor and supporting roles in film and television. He could be spotted as a soldier in Robert Aldrich's alarming nuclear thriller "Twilight's Last Gleaming" (1977), the Harrison Ford WWII romance "Hanover Street" (1979), and "Yanks" (1979). But among film nerds, he was most famously spotted as an air traffic controller in "Superman: The Movie" (1978) and as a Rebel military officer on the Hoth ice planet in the opening scenes of "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980). When not appearing in two of the biggest movies of all time, Ratzenberger also produced and wrote for several theater companies while in Europe, as well as for the BBC and Granada Television.
More supporting roles came his way during the early 1980s, with Ratzenberger popping up in any number of successful projects. He was a punk drummer who meets a terrible fate in the cult horror film "Motel Hell" (1980); played a cop in "Ragtime" (1981); and a Communist leader in an uncredited turn in Warren Beatty's critical masterpiece, "Reds" (1981). With an eye for landing roles in monumental movies, he also appeared in the Oscar-winning Best Picture, "Gandhi" (1982) as Candice Bergen's military driver, though his voice was later dubbed by Martin Sheen. While on a writing assignment in Los Angeles that same year, Ratzenberger auditioned for a role on an upcoming sitcom for NBC titled "Cheers." While there, he suggested to producers that a character like Cliff Clavin - a self-involved postman who talks just to hear himself talk - might make an excellent addition to the show's lineup. After the pitch, he performed a Cliffy improvisation that earned him the part. Ratzenberger stayed with the show for its entire 11-season run, earning him two Emmy nominations in 1985 and 1986. He also played Cliff on five other television series, including "St. Elsewhere" (NBC, 1982-88); the "Cheers" spin-offs, "The Tortellis" (NBC, 1987) and "Frasier" (NBC, 1993-2004); "Wings" (NBC, 1990-97); and "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1989- ).
While on "Cheers," Ratzenberger guested on several other series, including "Magnum, P.I." (CBS, 1980-88), and turned up in films like 1987's "House II: The Second Story" - essentially playing a variation on a role played by his "Cheers" co-star George Wendt in the original film - as well as uncredited performances in "The Falcon and the Snowman" (1985) and "Protocol" (1984). During this period, Ratzenberger also moved behind the camera as well, directing commercials - one of which earned a Clio Award - and episodic television, including multiple episodes of "Cheers," as well as "Evening Shade" (CBS, 1990-94) and "Sister Sister" (ABC/Paramount, 1994-99). In 1989, the globally conscious actor founded Eco-Pack Industries, which became an international success by providing the recycled paper product Quadrapak as a replacement for plastic packaging.
In 1995, Ratzenberger began a long and fruitful relationship with Pixar Animation Studios by providing the voice of the inquisitive and Cliff Clavin-like Hamm the piggy bank in "Toy Story." Since then, he contributed a vocal performance to numerous Pixar films. In addition to voicing Hamm in both "Toy Story" sequels, Ratzenberger played the bombastic head of a flea circus in "A Bug's Life" (1998); a nervous Yeti in "Monsters, Inc." (2001); a school of moonfish in "Finding Nemo" (2003); the super-villain the Underminer, who turns up at the conclusion of "The Incredibles (2004); and as a helpful truck in "Cars" (2006). Ratzenberger also recorded the voices for many these characters for the numerous tie-in video games. In addition to his voiceover work, Ratenzberger's live-action appearances included a role as Simon Baker's father in the romantic comedy "Something New" (2006) and a recurring role on the ABC sitcom "8 Simple Rules " (2002-05). In 2007, Ratzenberger gallantly stepped into the dancing shoes of former "The Sopranos" (HBO, 1999-2007) star, Vincent Pastore, as a celebrity contestant on the fourth season of the popular competition, "Dancing with the Stars."
Back on the big screen, Ratzenberger voiced Mustafa, the head waiter at a fancy French restaurant, in the Pixar hit "Ratatouille" (2007). He went on to voice an oblivious human aboard a spaceship in "WALL-E" (2008) and Tom the construction worker in Pixar's most acclaimed movie, "Up" (2009). From there, he played a gruff, but somehow angelic mechanic who helps guide a troubled financial wizard (Kevin Sorbo) in the Christian-themed limited release drama "What If." (2010). Meanwhile, Ratzenberger reprised Hamm, the piggy bank for "Toy Story 3" (2010), as well as for two animated shorts, "Hawaiian Vacation" (2011) and "Small Fry" (2011). After turning in another voice performance as Mack the truck in the rather disappointing "Cars 2" (2011), Ratzenberger returned to live action television with a 2011 episode of the sitcom "Melissa & Joey" (ABC Family, 2010-15).
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