Actress Thea White, best known for voicing the kind-hearted farmwife Muriel Bagge on Cartoon Network’s Courage the Cowardly Dog, died Friday, July 30 at age 81.
The news was shared on Facebook by her brother, John Zitzner, who explained that his sister had been diagnosed with liver cancer some months ago and underwent a tumor removal at the Cleveland Clinic earlier in July. Two days before her death, White underwent an exploratory surgery to address infection, but sadly she continued to decline and was taken off of artificial life support Friday morning.
Born Thea Ruth Zitzner in New Jersey on June 16, 1940, White came from a line of passionate performers on her mother’s side, according to a profile by New Jersey Hills Media Group. After graduating high school, she studied acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London and the American Theater Wing in NYC, beginning a professional stage career in her 20s. While performing in Dallas, she met her future husband, drummer Andy White — who played on Beatles tracks such as “Love Me Do” and was at the time performing with Marlene Dietrich. This led to White touring with the early 20th century star as her personal assistant until Dietrich was injured on stage in Australia.
Thea and Andy were married in 1983, and eventually returned to New Jersey, where White decided to get a “regular job” as an outreach specialist at the Livingston library. Just when she wasn’t looking for it, White’s “big break” into animation came when an old acquaintance put her in touch with a production company looking for someone who could speak with a Scottish accent, as her husband was Scottish. The retired actress decided to jump on the opportunity, which turned out to be on the hit Cartoon Network show.
“One of the best things about doing voice-overs is that you never have to retire,” White told New Jersey Hills Media Group in 2002. “As long as you can talk, you can work, and oh boy, can I talk!”
Courage the Cowardly Dog was created by John R. Dilworth for Cartoon Network and ran for four seasons (52 episodes) from 1999 to 2002. Originating as the What A Cartoon! short The Chicken from Outer Space, the 2D series revolves around a small pink dog named Courage who lives with his elderly owners, Muriel and Eustace, in Nowhere, Kansas. The surreal comedy sees the rural family plagued by paranormal, supernatural and sinister events, forcing the reluctant Courage to save the day.
John Zitzner wrote on Facebook that before her passing, White was looking forward to seeing her latest project: The crossover animated feature Straight Outta Nowhere: Scooby-Doo Meets Courage the Cowardly Dog, which arrives on home video from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment in September.
White was predeceased by husband Andy in 2015, and by her parents, Arthur and Theatrice Zitzner. She is survived by brothers Stewart Zitzner and John Zitzner, John’s wife Peg Zitzner, and many nieces, nephews and grand-nieces and nephews.