Joseph A. Sirola ’51, an actor and voiceover artist who played regular roles on TV and the stage but had an even more successful career behind the microphone in hundreds of commercials, died in New York City on February 10, 2019. He was 89.
Sirola acted on Broadway, in small theaters, on TV soap operas and dramas, and in the occasional movie; he even produced on and Off Broadway late in life. But his vocal flexibility made him far richer. In the 1960s he began doing voiceover work and soon found himself in high demand. A 1971 article about Sirola said he could be heard in 40 different commercials at that time and speculated that Americans who listened to the radio or watched TV probably heard his voice every day. He took considerable pride in the vocation, and said in the same interview, “The day is long past when a person who is merely a good announcer can do an effective commercial.”
Sirola was born on October 7, 1929, in Carteret, N.J., to Anton and Ana (née Dubrovich); both had emigrated from what is now Croatia. Sirola grew up in New York City and graduated from Stuyvesant in 1947. He earned a business degree from the College.
After service in the Army, Sirola took a job as a sales promotion manager at Kimberly-Clark. When a girlfriend told him, “You’re much more than a salesman,” he took some courses in the arts at Hunter College, one of which was in acting. His first Off Broadway credit was in 1959 in the play Song for a Certain Midnight, and he made his Broadway debut the next year, playing the proprietor of a bar in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Later Broadway acting credits included Golden Rainbow in 1968 and a revival of Pal Joey in 1976. At the same time, he was getting an increasing amount of TV work, playing roles on ’60s and ’70 shows like Get Smart, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Hawaii Five-O, The Magician and The Montefuscos. In 1989, Sirola played the father of the title character in Wolf.
Sirola was also known for the rooftop garden he kept at his penthouse on the Upper East Side. His roses were legendary: He generally sported one in his lapel when he attended Broadway openings, and each June he hosted a storied “Champagne and Roses” party.
While filming the 1984 TV movie Terrible Joe Moran, Sirola found a fellow gardener in the film’s star, James Cagney CC 1922. Just a few years ago, Sirola invested $100,000 in the Off Broadway biographical musical Cagney, which he produced and which played more than 500 performances. It wasn’t Sirola’s first job as a producer; he worked on the Broadway musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which won the Tony for best musical in 2014.
Throughout his performing and producing careers, Sirola continued voiceover work. He was still working when webisodes arrived: In 2010, in a series of fake mini-documentaries for Volkswagen, he played a fictional codger named Sluggy who was said to have accidentally invented a game of punching someone in the arm any time a VW was spotted.
Sirola is survived by his longtime companion, Claire Gozzo; daughter, Dawn Bales; and three grandchildren.
— Lisa Palladino