The Bizarre True Story of the Voice of ‘Jurassic Park’s Mr. DNA
While Jurassic Park might be considered a “modern classic” by many fans, it’s worth noting that the movie is almost 30 years old. For some perspective: Jurassic Park is as old now as Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was when Jurassic Park opened in movie theaters.
For the most part, the movie holds up extremely well. While its special effects, which were so cutting-edge in 1993, have since been surpassed by many other films (including multiple Jurassic Park and Jurassic World sequels, including the most recent Jurassic World: Dominion), Steven Spielberg’s eye for composition and action, and his gift for blending wonder and horror never ages. So when you watch Jurassic Park today, it doesn’t feel 30 years old. Except in a few spots.
One such spot: The lengthy sequence that explains where Jurassic Park’s remarkable dinosaurs came from. Today, you could just tell an audience “Scientists made them in a lab” and they would simply accept that. In 1993, notions like cloning and gene splicing were so novel to the average moviegoers, that Spielberg inserted an animated interlude — in the form of a ride at the park — that walked viewers through the steps of the process. The host of that animated scene, was a sentient strand of deoxyribonucleic acid named Mr. DNA.
Although Mr. DNA’s role in Jurassic Park was limited to that one scene, it left an enormous impact on the younger viewers the audience, perhaps because his broad humor was aimed directly at kids. In the years since the first Jurassic Park, Mr. DNA has become an increasingly popular figure in Jurassic lore. You can find his likeness on T-shirts and he recently got his own Funko Pop figure. He had a cameo in Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, and the recent LEGO Jurassic World video game even made Mr. DNA a playable character, which led to the surreal sight of this giant cartoon DNA strand tooling round Isla Nublar on a motorbike.
Much of the credit for Mr. DNA’s memorable performance goes to the man who provided his folksy voice, actor Greg Burson. In the early 1990s, Burson was a busy voice artist and announcer in Hollywood. He was a protégé of Daws Butler, the actor who originated the voices of Hanna-Barbera characters like Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound. When Butler passed, Burson assumed the role of Yogi and several other Butler characters. After Looney Tunes voice star Mel Blanc passed away in the late 1980s, Burson also inherited some of his roles as well, including Bugs Bunny. You can hear his version of the character in the 1995 animated short “Carrotblanca.”
Burson gave Mr. DNA the distinctive drawl of a Southern gentleman, but you won’t hear him as the character in any of his recent cameo appearances. (Colin Trevorrow himself played the part in his Jurassic World.) That’s because Burson died in 2008, just a few years after an incident with police ruined his career.
You can read all about it in a New York Post article from 2004 that’s cruelly titled “Voice of Yogi in Boozy Boo-Boo.” Burson was reportedly arrested “after he barricaded himself and held SWAT officers at bay.”
Two women eventually came out of the house, saying a third woman was being held inside and that Burson had guns, cops said. When Burson didn’t emerge, officers evacuated neighbors, and a SWAT team surrounded the house before the third woman walked out. Burson eventually ended the 51/2-hour siege, surrendering without incident.
The Post’s article quotes police sources who say they were “not sure” what motivated the incident, but they do say that Burson was “very intoxicated when he was taken into custody.” An article from Animation World Network around the same time claims that Burson was “despondent over less work” after he had gotten “replaced for most of [his] well known characters” in the early 2000s.
A tribute to Burson written by one of his voice directors, Mark Evanier, blames Burson’s decline — along with the strange hostage situation — on alcoholism. The incident, Evanier wrote “turned out to be a colossal misunderstanding, exacerbated by alcohol, but it was a lead story on the local news that ‘the voice of Bugs Bunny’ had been arrested. If you ever want to torpedo a successful career, something like this will do it.”
Sure enough, Burson’s IMDb page essentially ends in 2004. If work was already drying up in the early 2000s, it all but vanished after that. Burson passed away in 2008 from “complications from diabetes and arteriosclerosis,” although Evanier wrote that “drinking had a lot to do with it.”
That was a really sad end for a man who helped create one of the most memorable animated characters of the 1990s. Next time you see Mr. DNA in one of the Jurassic Park movies or games, take a moment to remember the voice actor who started it all.