John Ratzenberger

Active - 1976 - Present  |   Born - Apr 6, 1947 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, United States  |   Genres - Comedy, Children's/Family, Science Fiction

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Born in Connecticut, John Ratzenberger spent most of his early adulthood in England and Europe. After a brief stint as assistant to a London tree surgeon, Ratzenberger helped organize the English improvisational troupe "Sal's Meat Market" in 1971. He made his first screen appearances in such British-based productions as The Ritz (1976), A Bridge Too Far (1977), Superman (1978), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Gandhi (1982). In 1982, Ratzenberger read for the part of post-office employee Norm on the upcoming American TV sitcom Cheers. Sensing that he hadn't won the role (which was true), Ratzenberger asked if the cast of Cheers included the character of "a bar know-it-all." Suddenly he launched into an impromptu ten-minute monologue, posing as an endlessly chattering repository of useless information. Then and there, the character of Cliff Clavin was born--a character Ratzenberger played for the next ten years. A man of many talents, Ratzenberger directed several Cheers episodes, and also co-wrote two British television plays Friends in Space (1978) and Scalped (1979). Tirelessly active in the pro-ecology movement, John Ratzenberger was owner and operator of Eco-Pak, a conservation-conscious packaging firm. Since the demise of Cheers, the actor has resurrected Cliff Clavin in the form of an advertising pitchman and has appeared in many commercials. He has also found success doing voice overs for advertising and voicework in films such as Toy Story (1995) and Dog's Best Friend (1997). Ratzenberger continued to make occasional guest appearances on television series such as Caroline in the City.

He maintained a relationship with Pixar after Toy Story and went on to lend his distinctive voice to each of their films through Cars 2 in 2011. He returned to TV to appear in the fourth season of the reality competition series Dancing With the Stars.

Movie Highlights

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  • Worked with actress Frances Sternhagen in 1981's sci-fi flick Outland; she was later cast as his character's mother on Cheers.
  • His speaking part in Richard Attenborough's 1982 drama Gandhi was dubbed by Martin Sheen.
  • Was the only Cheers cast member to have lived in Boston, where the show was set.
  • Appeared as his Cheers alter ego on five other TV series along with costar George Wendt: The Tortellis, St. Elsewhere, Frasier, Wings and The Simpsons.
  • Began a long and lucrative relationship with Pixar Animation Studios in 1995 as the voice of the perpetually inquisitive piggy bank named Hamm in the Toy Story movies.
  • Helped create the organization, of which he is the chairman.
  • Holds a red belt in karate.
  • Stepped in as Vincent Pastore's replacement on the fourth season of Dancing With the Stars, partnering with pro Edyta Sliwinska.
  • Is a senior fellow with Center for America, which focuses on social justice, with an emphasis on employment. He is a founder of Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs, which also pushes for job opportunities. 
  • During a 2012 interview, he supported the idea of privatizing the postal system; no telling how his Cliff Clavin postman character from Cheers might have taken that!