Arleen Sorkin, the original voice and inspiration behind Batman villain Harley Quinn, has died at the age of 67, TheWrap has learned. The news broke on social media Saturday, with numerous fans and colleagues sharing their memories of the actress and the character she helped bring to the screen.
Unlike most characters in the world of Batman, Harley Quinn did not make her debut in the DC comic books, but rather in the acclaimed ’90s animated show “Batman: The Animated Series.” Sorkin first played Quinn on the show’s seventh episode “Joker’s Favor,” with the character initially set to only appear in a single episode. But she became a recurring part of the main cast after a rough cut of the episode was met well by the producers.
Prior to “Batman: The Animated Series,” Sorkin was best known for playing dressmaker Calliope Jones on “Days of Our Lives” from 1984-1990. It was one scene from her work on that soap opera that became the inspiration for Harley Quinn.
In a 2011 podcast interview with Kevin Smith, “BTAS” co-creator Paul Dini talked about how he thought about adding a wisecracking woman to the Joker’s team of henchmen. Dini knew Sorkin and saw her in a fantasy sequence from “Days of Our Lives” where she played a court jester in a clown outfit, inspiring Dini to design Harley Quinn after it with the intention of having Sorkin play her.
Sorkin would go on to play Harley for nearly 20 years in animated programming and video games until her retirement in 2011. Her performance became the basis for further development of Harley’s character in comic books and feature films like “Suicide Squad” and “Birds of Prey” — both of which starred Margot Robbie in the role — as she grew out of her initial role as Joker’s sidekick and became one of the most popular characters in the DC canon, moving from villain to anti-hero.
One of Sorkin’s most influential performances came in the “BTAS” episode “Harley and Ivy,” which first aired in January 1993. In the episode, Joker and Harley have a falling out after a battle with Batman goes haywire, resulting in Harley joining forces with Poison Ivy instead.
The episode would make Harley and Ivy into a popular pairing among writers and fans, culminating in the 2019 animated series “Harley Quinn” in which Harley, played by Kaley Cuoco, builds a new life after breaking up with Joker and ends up falling in love with Ivy.
“Without this gorgeous, talented goddess, Harley Quinn would have never existed,” tweeted voice actress Tara Strong, who starred alongside Sorkin in “BTAS” continuation “The New Batman Adventures” and played Harley after Sorkin’s retirement. “She was the inspiration & the heart & soul of this iconic character. I was in awe as Batgirl watching her alongside Mark Hamill & Kevin [Conroy]. Sending love to her family.”
Hamill voiced Joker, while the late Conroy gave life to Batman/Bruce Wayne himself. The character of Harley Quinn is getting another on-screen portrayal in the upcoming “Joker” sequel film, played by Lady Gaga.