Carol Ann Susi -- quite possibly the most famous unseen actress in TV history -- has died at the age of 62. News of her death after her battle with cancer broke late Tuesday night via The Associated Press, while TMZ secured this statement from "The Big Bang Theory" creator and showrunner, Chuck Lorre:
"The Mrs. Wolowitz character [on 'TBBT'] became a bit of mystery throughout the show's eight seasons. What was not a mystery, however, was Carol Ann's immense talent and comedic timing."
Indeed, the mystery was "Mrs. Wolowitz" herself -- seldom seen, except in brief flashes (never her face, I believe) -- but she was heard, and how: A big brassy Brooklynese filled the room or phone whenever she spoke. Her voice, in fact, was one of the big stars of this hit series. Debbie Wolowitz -- Howard's (Simon Helberg) mother -- was somewhat zaftig, self-pitying and a conveyor of guilt, mostly on to whomever she spoke. Susi's voice brought her fully alive in the 40 or so episodes she appeared in over the years.
But "Seinfeld" fans will vividly remember Susi as George Costanza's (Jason Alexander) "girlfriend" -- briefly, anyway. She was the daughter of George's unemployment adviser, and he took her on a date to con him into extending his benefits. Dear George ... it backfired, of course, but Carrie and Susi were priceless. "The Boyfriend" aired in early '92.
Actors who are oft heard, seldom seen are certainly not unheard of in sitcoms, and in fact there have been a couple dozen -- Earl Hindman's "Wilson Wilson" from "Home Improvement" was a famous example, and the One Armed Man in "The Fugitive" or "The Ugly Naked Guy" in Friends" or Carlton the Doorman on "Rhoda." (Oh yes, George Steinbrenner on "Seinfeld.")
But there was something about Susi that probably made her stand above them all -- beginning with that wonderful voice. Because viewers never saw her, they were left to fill in the blanks, and the voice allowed imaginations to run wild: She was large, yes, but how large? And what exactly did she wear? Bright vivid colors, one could reasonably assume. In an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer a couple of years ago, Susi said:
"I did an episode in the first season, but I had no idea whether they would bring her back. They said it was possible this would be a recurring character, but you can't get hopeful. Then, when I did a second episode, [executive producer] Chuck Lorre said to me, 'Carlton the Doorman. That's the kind of thing we're going for here.' He said, 'You don't mind not seeing the hair and makeup people for the next 10 years?' And I said, 'Not at all, as long as I get paid.' "
Where did that voice come from? "I really don't know," Susi said. "It just hit me that they wanted someone who was screaming at him all the time, so that's what I did. So what's not to be fun about this? It's a great job. Are you kidding? I have a ball."
Per the AP, Susi is survived by her brother, Michael Susi, and his wife, Connie.