WASHINGTON — Lary Lewman, who entertained Baltimore children as Pete the Pirate on an afternoon television program and who later became the preferred voice-over artist for thousands of Democratic political commercials, died July 11 at his home in the Howard County community of Clarksville, Md. He was 76.
He had Parkinson’s disease, said his son, Lance Lewman.
Early in his career, Mr. Lewman had ambitions of being a stage actor before turning to television. He donned a false beard and a black hat with a skull-and-crossbones emblem to create the role of Pete the Pirate for a children’s show on Baltimore’s WBAL-TV (Channel 11) in the early 1960s.
He was the host of ‘‘Consumer Survival Kit,’’ a syndicated TV program produced by Maryland Public Television in the 1970s, but by 1976 Mr. Lewman began to focus almost exclusively on his career as a voice-over actor.
He was the announcer for hundreds of commercials and industrial films and narrated documentaries for the Discovery Channel and National Geographic. But he found his steadiest work as the anonymous, if ubiquitous, voice speaking on TV commercials for every Democratic presidential candidate from Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton.
‘‘He’s about the best voice in town,’’ Democratic political strategist Mandy Grunwald told The Washington Post in 2000. ‘‘He can make sense of complicated thoughts. He always has a way of making complicated things about policy or people sound logical, or natural, and that’s not easy.’’
In quiet, earnest tones, Mr. Lewman praised Carter as ‘‘a solid man in a sensitive job.’’ While pitching Clinton’s re-election in 1996, Mr. Lewman said, ‘‘This is the America not of our dreams, but of our making.’’
He was the spokesman for hundreds of candidates, running for offices from president to small-town mayor. In 1982 alone, Mr. Lewman announced ads for Michael Dukakis, then a candidate for governor of Massachusetts, and Democratic senatorial candidates Frank Lautenberg in New Jersey, Bob Graham in Florida, James Sasser in Tennessee, Bob Kerrey in Nebraska, Quentin Burdick in North Dakota, and Thomas Daschle in South Dakota.
At the height of the campaign season, Mr. Lewman spent 12 hours a day recording commercials at his home studio in Clarksville. Even in years without a presidential election, Mr. Lewman had as much work as he could handle. In 1986, he made 1,019 commercials for 85 candidates in all 50 states. He often earned more than $500,000 in a year.
It never seemed to matter if his candidate won or lost; political consultants kept returning to Mr. Lewman for the reassurance, confidence, and hope that he could convey in his voice.
‘‘Traditionally, Republicans tend to like the voice of God,’’ Mr. Lewman told the Post. ‘‘Democrats tend to like the voice next door. Republicans like the basses — they tend to go more powerful. Democrats like the medium-voice baritone. So I’m the guy next door, Joe Sixpack.’’
Mr. Lewman rejected a few offers for ideological reasons — he turned down voice-overs for the stealth bomber, nuclear power plants, and the National Rifle Association — but in most cases, he approached a political ad as little more than a 30-second script.
For someone identified with political campaigns, Mr. Lewman was never an activist and knew surprisingly little about political life. ‘‘I tend to be apolitical,’’ he told the Post. ‘‘I always amuse the consultants with how little I know. Since I read so convincingly, they’re always startled by my ignorance.’’
He leaves his wife of 55 years, Nancy Posey Lewman; two children, Lance and Lori; a brother; and three grandchildren.