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Beginning his career
Nash made a name for himself in the late 1920s as an impressionist for KHJ, a Los Angeles radio station, on their show The Merrymakers. He was later employed by the Adohr Milk Company for publicity purposes. Dubbed "Whistling Clarence, the Adohr Bird Man", Nash rode the streets with a team of miniature horses and gave treats to the children. In 1932, Nash happened by the Disney Studio with his team of horses and decided to leave a copy of his Adohr publicity sheet with the receptionist. As it turns out, his name was recognized from a reprise appearance on The Merrymakers a few days before and Walt Disney himself had been impressed by Nash's vocal skills. He was asked to go to the Disney Studio for an informal audition.
Nash went through several of his voices and Walt Disney happened by when Nash gave his impersonation of a family of ducks. Disney declared Nash perfect for the role of a talking duck in their upcoming animated short The Wise Little Hen. The duck, of course, was Donald Duck, who Nash went on to voice for over 50 years.
Donald Duck went on to become one of the most famous cartoon characters in the world and a great part of this was due to Nash's distinctive voice. It may well be one of the most recognizable character voices in history. The voice is distinctive both for its duck-like quality and the fact that it is often very difficult for anybody to understand, especially when Donald flew into a rage (which happened fairly often). To keep Donald's voice consistent throughout the world, Nash dubbed Donald's voice into all the foreign languages that the Disney shorts were translated into (with the aid of the phonetic alphabet), meaning that Donald retained his same level of incoherency all across the globe. Mad magazine, in its 1950s comic-strip style satire of Disney characters ("Mickey Rodent" in issue #19), featured a "translation" of "Darnold" Duck's "quacky, incomprehensible" voice.
Nash's last feature films as the voice of Donald was in Mickey's Christmas Carol in 1983 and in Donald Duck's 50th Birthday in 1984, although he continued to provide Donald's voice for commercials, promos and other miscellaneous material until his death in 1985.
In addition to voicing Donald, Nash also voiced Daisy Duck (in her earliest appearances, when she was little more than a female version of Donald) as well as Donald's nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie. He also voiced the Rough House statue in Pinocchio, PJ in the short Bellboy Donald, a bullfrog in Bambi, vocal sounds for some of the dogs in 101 Dalmatians and vocal sounds for The Bear in The Fox and the Hound. Nash also provided the meows of Figaro in a handful of shorts and briefly voiced Jiminy Cricket after the death of Cliff Edwards in 1971. Nash also voiced Shere Khan's vocal effects in The Jungle Book. He also voiced Mickey Mouse in the 1934 short, The Dognapper, Walt was traveling in Europe at the time and was unavailable to record his lines for Mickey at the time.
Several Tom & Jerry cartoons directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera featured a third main character--a duckling named Little Quacker. Red Coffee provided Little Quacker's voice, though the voice is sometimes attributed mistakenly to Nash because it sounds similar to Donald Duck's.
When Disney shut down their shorts department in 1962, Nash continued to voice Donald in various projects over the next two decades.
Nash's performance as Donald in Mickey's Christmas Carol made Donald the only character in that film to be voiced by his original voice actor.
In the late 1970s, Nash was known for often taking walks in the neighborhood around Fremont Elementary School in Glendale, California, entertaining children with his Donald Duck voice.
Despite lending his voice to hundreds of films, shorts and television programs, Nash made few appearances on camera, such as when he was a contestant in a 1954 episode of What's My Line, as a guest in a 1976 episode of The Mike Douglas Show and in a cameo in the 1984 TV special Donald Duck's 50th Birthday.
In 1985, Nash was interviewed for the Donald Duck Story on the VHS Donald's Bee Pictures and told a story of how he copied how his pet goats sounded at his farm before getting hired as the voice of Donald. He explained the rivals Donald Duck had including Spike the Bee and of how the bee foiled Donald and stung him. This would be his last Disney interview before his passing.
Clarence Nash died of leukemia in 1985 at the age of 80 and was interred in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, Los Angeles, California. The tombstone of the grave he now shares with his wife Margaret Nash (who died in 1993) depicts a carving of Donald and Daisy Duck holding hands.
After Nash's death, Donald's voice was taken up by Disney animator Tony Anselmo, who was trained by Nash personally, probably because Nash knew that one day, he needed to be replaced.
Later characters whose voices owe considerable credit to Nash's duck voice have been voiced by actors such as Jimmy Weldon, Frank Welker, Luba Goy and Red Coffee. The most prominent of these is Weldon's Yakky Doodle for Hanna-Barbera. Anselmo is also among the many voiceover artists to have also voiced Huey, Dewey and Louie over the years.