HOULTON, Maine — Houlton native William Dufris, a voice actor best known for the popular children’s television character “Bob the Builder,” died Tuesday, March 24, at his home in South Portland surrounded by his family after a battle with cancer. He was 62.
Dufris took on the voice of Bob the Builder when the show, which originated in Great Britain, was redubbed for a U.S. audience.
Sam Hiscoe, Dufris’ nephew and a resident of Houlton, said he was devastated by the loss of his “Uncle Billy,” whose acting career spanned more than 20 years.
“He didn’t let fame take over his personality,” Hiscoe said. “He was always the most genuine, caring and real person you could ever imagine. The thing I’ll love him and miss him the most for is when he would call to check in on me. It’s easy to say ‘I’m here for you.’ But, it’s another to actually be there.”
A graduate of Houlton High School’s Class of 1976, Dufris moved to London where he began his voice career for BBC Radio. It was during this time he worked with several people who would become Hollywood celebrities, such as Helena Bonham-Carter, Kathleen Turner and Stockard Channing.
A humble man, Hiscoe said his uncle was always friendly to anyone he met.
“He was famous, but he would never agree with you if you said that to him,” he said. “If you met him, he would remember you and he would open his home to everyone and entertain them to the best.
“He was genuine in that he truly cared about the well-being of everyone. So much that toward the end he was apologizing to everyone for being a burden because they were taking care of him.”
Hiscoe said while they were not always together physically, Dufris took the time to call and was especially helpful when Hiscoe’s second brother died a few years ago.
“Uncle Bill would call and check in on me because he knew what it was like to lose two brothers and he knew what I was going through,” Hiscoe said. “I can’t begin to say how thankful I am for those moments on the phone. Just his presence alone made me feel happier and OK in that given moment.”
Dufris is also known for producing several audio drama versions of established works, such as “Spider-Man,” “Judge Dredd” and “An American Werewolf in London.” These were often done in collaboration with Dirk Maggs, who is best known for producing the radio drama version of the well-known book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
In addition, Dufris provided voice work for several dubbed anime projects that would become forerunners of the “cyberpunk” genre, with works such as “Angel Cop”, “Patlabor” and “Venus Wars”. He also provided voice work for the famous anime character Lupin III.
Dufris returned to Houlton two or three times a year to visit with family and friends still in the area. His wife, Maria Reuillard, is an artist and was Dufris’ soulmate, Hiscoe said.
“She is his soulmate and my family is beyond thankful for her loving him in sickness and in health.”
“You could never be around him without him making you laugh,” he explained. “He was a character himself in real life. He lit up every room he was in and was normally the center of attention due to his comedian-like personality.”
Some of his favorite memories of his uncle are from the times he spent getting to know Hiscoe’s wife Chrissy and their new growing family.
“He always came up for birthday parties,” Hiscoe said. “Basically whenever there was a get together with family or old classmates. He would visit my classrooms and read to my students, answer questions and sign Bob the Builder toys.”
Although he is best-known as the voice of Bob the Builder, that is not the work Durfris that made him most proud, Hiscoe said.
“He loved his acting career and most of all his audio books,” he said. “If you go on Amazon Audiobooks you can search his name William Dufris and there is all kinds of stuff on there for purchase. He even worked with Stephen King.”
Dufris’ celebrity status was something Hiscoe used as an ice-breaker when he first met the woman who later became his wife.
“When I first met Chrissy, I used the pickup line ‘My uncle is Bob the Builder,’” he recalled. “Then I invited her to my sister’s wedding so she could meet the legend. He was so accepting of Chrissy, he called her ‘Sweetie’ that day and every day after when he would see us. He joked with her and talked with her like he knew her his entire life.”
Hiscoe also recalled one time when he was a youngster, his uncle took him to his studio, where he recorded him and a friend singing the “Bob the Builder” theme song.
“I watched the show every time it came on when I was a kid and even a teenager and yes, I still watch the show now to hear his voice and to share it with my kids and even my students at [Houlton Southside] school,” Hiscoe said. “I have to say the day before he passed I didn’t think I would get that last phone call with him so I called just to tell him I loved him and he responded with ‘I love you too Sammie.’”
Hiscoe said Dufris hosted his own “Living Funeral” in December, where he said he was not sad about dying.
“He lived a great life that he was proud of and he had no regrets,” Hiscoe said.