Robin Williams pictured with the real voice behind the movie “Good Morning Vietnam.” Composite made by Coffee or Die magazine.
“Goooooood morning, Vietnam!” Adrian Cronauer boomed out his signature drawn-out greeting. “It’s just a smidgen past five after six, and here we go with another day’s version of the Dawn Buster show from the Armed Forces Radio.”
Cronauer was the real voice whose story inspired the 1987 cult-classic movie Good Morning, Vietnam starring Robin Williams. The Air Force veteran co-wrote the movie loosely based on his life experiences in Vietnam where, between 1965 and 1966, the disc jockey brought smiles to the faces of some 500,000 American service members serving in the conflict.
As Hollywood movies go, the real events don’t quite match the on-screen version. “If I did half the things [Williams] did in that movie, I’d still be in Leavenworth and not England,” Cronauer told Stars and Stripes in a 2004 interview. “No, I was not thrown out of Vietnam. I did not have, as far as I knew, any friends who were Viet Cong.”
During the Vietnam War, multiple American Forces Vietnam Network stations broadcast to troops across the country. One of the network’s DJs was future Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak, who repeated those same words that Cronauer made famous. “It was a phrase I shouted virtually every weekday at 6 a.m. from the studios of the American Forces Vietnam Network in Saigon between October 1968 and December 1969,” Sajak wrote in 2014.
Cronauer explained he perfected his signature introduction while hosting his own radio show on the island of Crete years before he arrived in Vietnam. “I said, ‘Good morning, Iraklion,’ because it was Iraklion Air Station,” he told CNN in 1995.
In Saigon, Cronauer took that same energy and brought it to his studio headquarters. The studio was nothing glamorous — it was the same kind of radio-station control room one could find anywhere else. “The only real reminder of the war was the fact that, on the console beside the turntables, was a loaded .45,” he told NPR in 1988. “Over in the newsroom, there was another one beside the teletype machines. And we were instructed that, if it was necessary, we were expected to use it.”
Cronauer played music during the morning shift to boost morale. “They’re young guys in this horrendous heat, slogging through rice paddies with mosquitoes the size of Mack trucks, picking leeches off themselves, shooting and fighting and killing and being killed,” he told The New York Times. To open the show with a cheery, enthusiastic callout, he said, put “a certain amount of irony there, and if they pick up on that, they’ll know what I’m really saying.”
Williams spoke highly of Cronauer in a 1988 interview with Rolling Stone magazine and expressed how, despite their use of dramatic license for the movie, “[Cronauer] did play rock & roll, he did do characters to introduce standard army announcements, and ‘Goooood morning, Vietnam,’ really was his signature line,” Williams said. “He says he learned whenever soldiers in the field heard his sign-on line, they’d shout back at their radios, ‘Gehhhhht fucked, Cronauer!’”
Following his five-year stint with the Air Force, Cronauer worked various jobs, including working as a news anchor, doing voice-over work in New York, and starting his own advertising agency. He also kept one foot in veterans affairs, providing support to veterans’ causes, including the Defense Department’s POW/MIA Office. In 2018, Cronauer passed away at the age of 79.
Matt Fratus is a history staff writer for Coffee or Die. He prides himself on uncovering the most fascinating tales of history by sharing them through any means of engaging storytelling. He writes for his micro-blog @LateNightHistory on Instagram, where he shares the story behind the image. He is also the host of the Late Night History podcast. When not writing about history, Matt enjoys volunteering for One More Wave and rooting for Boston sports teams.
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