Collins was born Christopher Lawrence Latta in Orange, New Jersey, and grew up in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan, New York City. His legal name became Christopher Charles Collins when his stepfather adopted him. Collins’ biological father, Robert Latta, was a New York stage actor. His mother, Jane Morin, worked as an advertising executive. In his stand-up routine, he claimed to have grown up in Harlem and said his ultra-liberal parents had moved the family there “so he could meet some Negroes”. (Morningside Heights is sometimes called “West Harlem”.) After a year at New York University, he studied acting, dance, voice and mime. In the mid-1970s, he acted on the New York and Boston stage and did voice-over work for Boston radio station WBCN. He made his animation voice acting debut as one of the English dubbers of the 1979 anime series Space Battleship Yamato (also called Star Blazers). He was most recognizable in that series as the voice of space marine Sgt. Knox during the Comet Empire installment. One of Collins’ earlier voice works was in Star Blazers second series broadcast in the United States The Comet Empire. His most notable role in the series was that of space marine Sergent Webb Knox (Saito in the Japanese version). In 1983, Collins started voicing Cobra Commander for a five-part G.I. Joe animated miniseries. In 1984, he reprised the role for a second five-part animated mini-series, which became a regular series in 1985. Also in 1984, Collins voiced a new character, Starscream, for a three-part Transformers animated miniseries. By 1985, he was voicing other G.I. Joe and Transformers characters in toy commercials, carrying on in those roles when the two television series made their debut. When he began doing regular voice work, he adopted the stage name Chris Latta because another Screen Actors Guild actor was performing as “Chris Collins”.
Cobra Commander was the original leader of Cobra, usually portrayed (in the cartoon version) alongside the steel-faced Destro. Starscream was played as a megalomaniacal offsider to the chief antagonist (Megatron performed by Frank Welker), and was more concerned with usurping his superior than with following orders. After the Serpentor character was created in 1986, drawing power away from Cobra Commander, that role became very similar to Starscream’s role. However, most striking was the high-pitched, rasping voice Collins employed for both roles, which made the characters always seem duplicitous and conniving regardless of what they were saying, as well as adding an element of a running gag when they inevitably threw a tantrum or when they were humiliated by their superiors (Starscream getting slapped around by Megatron for his disobedience and Cobra Commander getting himself routinely countermanded by Serpentor). He also provided the voice for Wheeljack, a heroic Autobot scientist, the Autobots’ human friend Sparkplug Witwicky, and Gung Ho, a burly, rough and tumble G.I. Joe Marine characterized by his mustache and bald head. Gung Ho was very much the antithesis of Cobra Commander; while Cobra Commander was a cowardly egomaniac and a weakling, Gung Ho was a brave, steadfast hero who was strong enough to withstand a punch in the jaw without flinching. Collins’ success led to work on many other animated programs, including Inhumanoids, where he voiced D’Compose and Tendril, Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, where he voiced Darkstorm and Cravex, and The Simpsons, where he originated the voice of Mr. Burns in the first season episodes “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”, “The Telltale Head”, and “Homer’s Odyssey”, and recorded lines (but was dubbed over in the latter) as Moe the bartender for “The Telltale Head” and “Some Enchanted Evening”. Along with several other early Simpsons voice actors, he left during the first season. Hank Azaria took over the voice of Moe, while Harry Shearer assumed the role of Mr. Burns.
Later in the 1980s, Collins began working as Christopher Collins and acted in many live-action television series and motion pictures. He played Klingon Captain Kargan and Pakled Captain Grebnedlog in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Collins went on to portray two different Markalians on Deep Space Nine: first Durg, and then an unnamed assistant to The Albino. In Married… with Children, he played Roger, one of Al Bundy’s bowling buddies and a member of NO MA’AM (National Organization of Men Against Amazonian Masterhood). He also portrayed a mugger on an episode of Seinfeld entitled “The Subway”. His character known only as “The Thug” and demands Kramer to “Gimme da money!” before being apprehended by an undercover NYPD officer. In this episode, he is credited as “Christopher Collins”. He appears as “Mr. Forbes” in a first-season episode of NYPD Blue titled “Abandando Abandoned”. He provided some voices in The Real Ghostbusters and is credited as Chris Collins. From 1989 to 1990 he played King Koopa (aka Bowser) in King Koopa’s Kool Kartoons. Collins’ first live-action feature film appearance was a bit part as the sharing husband in the Patrick Swayze film Road House. He also appeared in True Identity, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Blue Desert and A Stranger Among Us. On April 28, 2012, Chris Latta was inducted into the Transformers Hall of Fame. His daughter Abigail accepted on his behalf, to a standing ovation.
Collins married twice and had three children. Early in his career, he divided his time between New York, Boston, and Los Angeles before settling in L.A. in 1983. In 1991, he moved to Ventura, California. Christopher Collins died on June 12, 1994, his cause of death officially recorded as a cerebral hemorrhage following a long illness. Although his contemporaries have spoken fondly of Latta, some have made cryptically suggestive comments on the nature of his death, including Peter Cullen (who remarked that he was a victim of Hollywood’s tendency to “devour its young), Susan Blu (who said that Latta was “a sweet guy who had his demons”), and Flint Dille (who noted on the commentary track for the 20th anniversary DVD release of The Transformers: The Movie that he and other members of the production staff “never really found out” how he died). In another interview, Dille recalled: “There was one summer when I had to bail Chris Latta (Starscream, Cobra Commander) out of the Hollywood jail in order to get him to the recording on time. Never figured out what he was in for, but he said it was jaywalking. Chris was a wild, interesting guy. I liked him and was very sorry to hear that he died.”
- August, 30, 1949
- Orange, New Jersey
- June, 12, 1994
- Ventura, California
Cause of Death
- cerebral hemorrhage