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Jim French, Left 4 Dead’s Bill, dies at 89

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A prolific radio actor as the nation was turning to television

William “Bill” Overbeck, USA 1st Special Forces Group, survivor.
Turtle Rock Studios/Valve Corp.

Jim French, a Seattle radio host and voice actor who later supplied the voice of Bill Overbeck in 2008’s Left 4 Dead, has died. He was 89. A veteran of World War II, French was one of the last full-time voice actors producing radio theater on commercial stations in the United States.

French produced Imagination Theater, a radio drama program syndicated to more than 100 FM and AM radio stations over North America, as well as on SiriusXM satellite radio. French’s program grew out of radio dramas he produced for KING-AM and KING-TV in Seattle going back to 1952. In 1980, his show was renamed by its syndicating company to Imagination Theater.

It is French’s role as William “Bill” Overbeck in Left 4 Dead for which he would be best known to video game enthusiasts. The grizzled, beret-wearing Vietnam veteran is one of the four original survivors battling the zombie apocalypse in Turtle Rock Studios’ multiplayer hit.

Though players could pick any of the four survivors, Bill was most recognizably the unit’s leader, probably owing to the character’s age and assumed military service. He was distinguished by his Special Forces beret and dangling cigarette, which went out only when the character died.

James R. French was born in 1929 in Seattle. During World War II he was a writer and presenter for weekly shows broadcast over the Armed Forces Radio Service. Postwar, he settled in his hometown and resumed his broadcasting career. He is credited with writing and performing in more than 500 shows, most of them in an age of television, when the new medium was pushing out the old radio dramas.

Left 4 Dead was not his only video game credit. French was also the voice of Father Grigori in Half Life 2, and the Elder Titan in Dota 2. All three are published by Valve Corp.