34

News articles like this one are stating that James Earl Jones is looking to wind down his career, and has supposedly given permission for Disney to use artificial intelligence and archival recordings to recreate his voice in the future.

Jones first played Vader in Star Wars in 1977 and most recently, his voice was used in the 2022 Obi-Wan Disney+ series. This is a time period of 45 years.

Has any other actor in a sci-fi production played the same role for a longer period of time? This can include both live-action and voice work.

The only caveat I would place on this would be that the actor must have been alive when the role was played, but they can have died before the material was published.

I've looked at some Doctor Who actors (as the longest-running sci-fi TV show) and have been unable to find anyone with a similar length of service:

  • Carol Ann Ford (Susan Foreman, Dr. Who, 1963-1993) - 30 Years
  • Elizabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith, Dr. Who, 1973-2011) - 38 Years

EDIT: The following contenders have been suggested via various answers:

  • Noel Neill - Lois Lane (Superman) - 1948-2013 - 65 Years

  • Jack Larson - Jimmy Olsen (Superman) - 1952-2013 - 61 Years

  • William Russel - Ian Chesterton (Dr Who) - 1963-2022 - 59 Years

  • Carole Ann Ford - Susan Foreman (Dr Who) - 1963-2021 - 58 Years

  • William Shatner - James T Kirk (Star Trek) - 1966-2019 - 53 Years

  • George Takei - Hikaru Sulu (Star Trek) - 1966-2019 - 53 Years

  • Leonard Nimoy - Spock (Star Trek) - 1966-2013 - 47 Years

  • Tom Baker - The Doctor (Dr Who) - 1974-2021- 47 Years

  • Ysanne Churchman - Alpha Centauri ( Dr Who) - 1972-2017 - 45 Years

  • Majel Barrett - Computer (Star Trek) - 1966-2009 - 43 Years

  • Paul Naschy - Count Waldemar Daninsky (Various) - 1968-2004 - 36 Years

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  • 3
    Yes it's from the date of their first performance until the date of their last performance.
    – A.Steer
    Sep 26 at 11:37
  • 14
    Outside SF, there's a voice actor who played the same character from 1951 to 2022 (i.e. 71 years), before finally retiring at the age of 103. So SF has some catching up to do! Sep 26 at 20:18
  • 1
    Does it count if they first did radio, then advanced to play the same character on TV?
    – GEdgar
    Sep 27 at 1:05
  • 2
    @iMerchant That's 35 years, not 45.
    – Graham
    Sep 28 at 11:24
  • 5
    I probably wouldn't define someone playing a role once, and then playing it again 30 years later as "playing the same character for 30 years". Noel Neill, for example, seemingly didn't play Lois Lane for 55 years during those 65 years which she played Lois Lane (and she also played someone other than Lois Lane, and plenty of other people have played Lois Lane, within Superman media during that time). But narrowing down what exactly it would constitute playing the same character for some period of time may not be that straightforward and this may be arguing semantics.
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 29 at 11:06

9 Answers 9

54

If you extend from film and TV to audio plays, Carole Ann Ford has been playing Susan Foreman for 58 years:

William Russel is close behind. His last audio performance as Ian Chesterton was released in 2020.

There's every chance either may make a cameo appearance in the anniversary specials next year, cementing them with 60 years on TV in the same role.


Edit: William Russel just appeared in Dr Who: The Power of the Doctor (2022), so is currently at 59 years in the same role on the same TV series.

6
  • 3
    According to tardis.fandom.com/wiki/After_the_Daleks_(audio_story), After The Daleks was recorded in 2019, so Carole Ann Ford has played Susan for 56 years. It would be interesting to find out when William Russell last played Ian Chesterton as it might be close between the two
    – A.Steer
    Sep 26 at 23:14
  • 1
    @A.Steer It's unlcear, but the question is concerning release dates, not recording.
    – OrangeDog
    Sep 27 at 9:02
  • 1
    Tidbit, but there was a pic. of Susan in the 50th anniversary show, if that would count. Sep 27 at 17:26
  • 1
    @Zenzizenzizenzic - a pic of Susan was also used in the first episode of the last series of Peter Capaldi's Doctor -- he has it on his desk at the university, alongside a pic of River Song.
    – occipita
    Sep 29 at 18:23
  • I saw a news article that said William Russell has a Guinness Book of World records for longest character now. Oct 27 at 6:35
48

In keeping the with SF&F aspect: Leonard Nimoy played Spock over a period of ~47 years. From his initial appearance in the original Star Trek TV series in 1966 to Star Trek: Into Darkness in 2013.

Depending on how strict you're being this is slightly beaten by his Star Trek colleague William Shatner as archival recordings of him playing James Kirk are used in the 2019 episode of Short Treks "Ephraim and Dot", which would take his career as Kirk from 1966 to 2019 or 53 years.

9
  • 6
    I completely forgot about Star Trek. With Spock being in the pilot, I suspect he will be the longest character and actor combination. I will leave it 48 hours to see if anyone else comes up with anything, but I think you have got it.
    – A.Steer
    Sep 26 at 11:47
  • 19
    On a similar note, Majel Barrett played the computer for 43 years.
    – OrangeDog
    Sep 26 at 12:59
  • 13
    George Takei would match Shatner, if archival footage was included as they are both in the Man Trap (Series 1 Episode 1) as well as Ephraim and Dot
    – A.Steer
    Sep 26 at 23:27
  • 6
    Nimoy as Spock also appeared posthumously in Star Trek: Beyond in 2016, though only in a photograph. Still, he's in the credits, for whatever that's worth. Sep 27 at 13:30
  • 4
    Majel Barrett appeared as "Number One" in The Menagerie in November 1966, in scenes taken from the unaired pilot. She also appears as "Number One" in the Discovery episode An Obol for Charon in February 2019 in a blink-and-you'll-miss it homage to TOS and The Cage. I don't know if that counts. Sep 27 at 14:37
34

Since Jones was only supplying a voice, it might be fair to mention the large number of voice actors who played the same role for many decades.

For example:

  • Mel Blanc voiced Bugs Bunny from 1940 until his death in 1989.
  • Don Messick voice Ranger Smith in the Yogi Bear cartoons from 1959–1994, and Scooby Doo from 1969 to 1997.
  • Frank Welker has voiced Fred Jones (from Scooby Doo) from 1969 till today.

I could also mention that ALL the surviving actors from Star Wars have been playing their roles for the same time period as Jones. Mark Hamill has played Luke the most recently, so he'd be tied with Jones in that one film alone.

14
  • 11
    Mark Hammill's last "appearance" was in The Book of Boba Fett, while Jones was in Obi-Wan, so Jones wins by about 6 months. Sep 26 at 16:39
  • 2
    @DaveJohnson Anthony Daniels would be just about tied with Jones, and Daniels was in the Threepio suit for most of his live-action appearances as well IIRC. Sep 26 at 19:40
  • 6
    As this answer steps outside the sci-fi realm, note the example raised by @SteveMelnikoff above of June Spencer from The Archers who trounces all of them with 72 years, retiring this year. Sep 27 at 1:00
  • 3
    @DaveJohnson Technically Jones wasn't actually in Obi-Wan.
    – OrangeDog
    Sep 27 at 11:23
  • 4
    they've not (AFAIK) been 100% clear if Jones provided any new work for Obi-Wan which they used as a base, as Hamill did. He's credited because they used his voice as the base data, and I expect that will remain so in future projects. I hope he keeps getting paid as well. Sep 27 at 15:02
20

Returning to Dr. Who, I haven't seen a mention of the Fourth Doctor Tom Baker yet.

Baker was "The Doctor" from 1974 to 1981, but later appeared as the Fourth Doctor in a 1993 special, and has played the role in several radio adaptations, the latest being in 2021 -- a span of 47 years.

2
  • 2
    Don't forget he featured ons creen in the 50th anniversary special in 2013! A very on the nose cameo for 'the Curator'.
    – Crazy Dino
    Sep 27 at 22:14
  • 1
    @CrazyDino to be ultra literal - the Curator is the x+4 doctor - who just happens to be exactly like the 4th doctor from some arbitrary x number of regenerations in the future we will never see on screen. Sep 30 at 0:06
12

The Superman franchise has two contenders.

Noel Neill played Lois Lane in the Superman serials in 1948, and reprised the role in Superman and the Secret Planet in 2013. That's 65 years.

Jack Larson is not far behind, first playing Jimmy Olsen on the Adventures of Superman TV series in 1952 (along with Neill), and also appearing in Superman and the Secret Planet.

They also appeared as Lois and Jimmy Williamson in 2016's Surge of Power: Revenge of the Sequel*. The last names are different, but these characters are obviously homages to their signature roles.

* I haven't seen it, but this this cast has lots of minor roles by well known genre actors, including: Linda Blair, Gil Gerard, Lou Gerrigno, Nichelle Nichols, Marina Sirtis, Walter Koenig, Richard Hatch, Nicholas Brendan (the last few playing themselves).

3
  • 1
    Even if you want to disqualify fan-made work, Larson returned as Jimmy Olsen in Lois and Clark in 1996, which is a healthy 42 year run. Sep 27 at 18:32
  • @VBartilucci I started my search by looking for cameos on Smallville, but they didn't show up there, so I suspected I was confusing it for Lois & Clark.
    – Barmar
    Sep 27 at 19:16
  • I wonder if "Williamson" was an homage to the legendary SF author Jack Williamson.
    – Spencer
    Sep 30 at 12:12
8

Anthony Daniels is still doing voice acting work for C-3PO, most recently in Obi-Wan Kenobi and Lego Star Wars Summer Vacation TV shows and the Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga video game in 2022. As of 2020, he was saying that he would "never retire" from playing C-3PO. I would think that means he's going to be beating James Earl Jones more or less by defintion?

4
  • 1
    Hi, welcome to SF&F. While it's possible that he may pass JEJ, he hasn't yet, and that wouldn't yet beat some of the others on this list anyway.
    – DavidW
    Sep 28 at 4:03
  • 1
    I suppose it depends on the precise release dates of Daniel's 2022 releases vs Obi-Wan Kenobi. I don't have time to check those details right now. Sep 28 at 4:31
  • 2
    Lego Star Wars Summer Vacation was released 5th August 2022, the final episode of Kenobi came out 22nd June 2022. Daniels pips Jones by around six weeks. Sep 28 at 5:34
  • 1
    @DavidW: (copy of my comment on OP's question): What about contiguous "density" -- e.g. Tom Baker played Dr. Who for the most years continuously, as opposed to making one appearance in 1963 and another in 20-something? – Sep 28 at 19:04
8

Additional - if we want to stick to sci-fi, the actors on the various Japanese tokusatsu shows have made recurring appearances on the respective franchises for 50-plus years.

Hiroshi Fujioka who played Takeshi Hongo in the original Kamen Rider series in 1971 has returned to reprise the role as recently as 2021 for the 50th anniversary of the franchise.

Kenji Ohba, who has played lead (on camera) roles on several series (and suit actor in many more) has returned to play said characters, including Space Sheriff Gavan (1982), in many specials and films, playing Gavan again as recently as 2017.

Bin Furuya, who was the suit actor for the original Ultraman series 55 years ago, returned to be body-scanned and motion-capture work for the CGI version of the character in the new film Shin Ultraman.

2

Shuuichi Ikeda (Char Aznable) and Toru Furuya (Amuro Ray) have been reprising their voice actor roles from Mobile Suit Gundam since 1979. Most recently, they both appeared in the 2022 movie Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan's Island.

I'm throwing their names out here for completeness' sake since they're still active and have an appearance density on par with the Star Wars and Star Trek actors.

1
  • Note that 43 years is less than most of the other examples here, and less than the example asked in the question.
    – DavidW
    Sep 29 at 16:30
0

Counting voice acting? Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar. All started playing the characters of Batman, Robin, and Catwoman in 1966, and all three reprised their roles in the 2016 animated film Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, and the 2017 Batman vs Two-Face, giving all three 51 years.

Ward went on to play Dick Grayson in a brief scene in the first episode of the CW Arrowverse's "Crisis on Infinite Earths" crossover on Supergirl, giving him 53 years between his first and last live-action version of the character.

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