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Answer Man: Who is Mayo film narrator Peter Coyote?

September 17, 2018

Dear Answer Man: Thought I saw you in the VIP section at the premiere of the Ken Burns Mayo Clinic film. If you stuck around for the end credits, like I did, you noticed that the film’s narrator was listed as “Peter Coyote.” Is that a real person? It sounded like Henry Fonda to me. — A Man Fan

Yes, dear Fan, Mrs. Answer Man always makes me sit through the credits. In this case, she tugged me back into my seat just as Mr. Coyote’s named flashed on the screen. But I was not surprised. Peter C., after all, is Ken Burns’ go-to narrator for his films.

The Mayo Clinic film is the seventh project Coyote has narrated for Burns, including “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,” for which he won a Primetime Emmy for narration, and last year’s “The Vietnam War.”

Coyote, 76, was born Robert Peter Cohon in New York. He changed his name to Coyote as a young man after experiencing a vision of coyote paw prints when he ingested peyote.

While a student at Grinnell College in Iowa, Coyote organized a group of students to travel to Washington during the Cuban Missile Crisis to support President John F. Kennedy’s “peace race.” The president in turn invited Coyote and his classmates to the White House.

After college, Coyote became involved in the counter-culture in San Francisco, acted on stage and eventually was cast in movies, including “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Jagged Edge,” “Patch Adams” and “Erin Brockovich.”

In addition to his film work, Coyote was the narrator for the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

And here’s a tidbit we uncovered on the Internet Movie Database website: Coyote supposedly never reads the script of a Burns film in advance of recording his narration.

By the way, according to numerous sources, including my own finely tuned ears, Coyote does sound more than just a little bit like Henry Fonda.

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