Benjamin Sherman Crothers was an American actor, musician, singer and dancer. He was born on May 23, 1910 to Benjamin and Donnie Crothers in Terre Haute, Indiana. He got his nickname when he auditioned for a radio show in 1932 and the director told him he needed a catchy name, which is when he came up with the name “Scatman” on the spot. Ironically enough, he later started scat singing as well. Scatman Crothers started his career as a drummer for a band in his home town. He also played a number of other instruments, including the guitar and piano. He performed with many artists including the gangster Al Capone. He started his own band in the 1930s and later moved to Oakland, California with them. In the 1940s, he started making short musical pieces, often playing the drums with artists such as American jazz singer Slim Gaillard.
He first started acting in the 1950s, with his debut role in the 1953 movie “Meet Me at the Fair”. He appeared in several small roles in film and television throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and it wasn’t until 1970 that he got a big role in an animated movie called “The Aristocrats” which was produced by Walt Disney Productions. He voiced the role of “Scat Cat” in the film and also sang the theme song titled “Ev’rybody Wants to be a Cat”. Crothers was a good friend of the acclaimed actor Jack Nicholson, and appeared in four of his films. The first of these was the 1972 film “The King of Marvin Gardens” in which he played a small supporting role of the character “Lewis”. The next film they did together was a comedy titled “The Fortune” released in 1975, in which he again played a small role. The same year, he appeared in one of Nicholson’s biggest hits titled “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” in which he played the role of a ward orderly named “Turkle”. In 1980, he again co-starred with Nicholson in the acclaimed suspense thriller film “The Shining”.
Crothers’ other film roles include “Coonskin” in 1975, “Silver Streak” in 1976, “The Shootist” in 1976, “Bronco Billy” in 1980, “Zapped” in 1982, “Two of a Kind” in 1983 and “Twilight Zone: The Movie” in 1983. Scatman Crothers also appeared in several television roles, many of them as a voice actor. This included the cartoon series “Harlem Globetrotters” in which he voiced the characters of “Hong Kong Phooey” and “Meadowlark Lemon”. Another role included “The New Alice in Wonderland (or What’s a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This?)”. He also had several guest appearances on shows such as “Dragnet” in 1967, “Bewitched” and “McMillan & Wife” in 1971, “Adam-12” in 1972, “Kojak” and “Ironside” in 1973, ” Kolchak: The Night Stalker” and “Sanford and Son” in 1974, “Starsky and Hutch” in 1977, “Charlie’s Angels” and “Love Boat” in 1978, “Magnum, P.I.” in 1980, and “Taxi” in 1983. In the 1980s, he voiced the character of Autobot Jazz on the television series “The Transformers”.
Crothers was respected and well liked in the industry due to his laid back and likeable personality. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1985, as he had been a chain smoker all his life. He kept this fact a secret in order to continue working without unwanted attention. By 1986, however, his condition had gotten much worse, and he was soon unable to speak when the cancer spread. Scatman Crothers died of pneumonia in November 1986 at the age of 76.