Born in Los Angeles, California, US, she had an interest in fantasy and animation early in her life. She acted in plays in high school and also studied theater at University of California, Los Angeles. After unsuccessful acting jobs, she was considering a career in the Air Force, when "going wild" on karaoke at a housewarming party changed her life.
In 1989, she began voicing the Disney character Snow White. Bergman is widely known for her voice work in the earliest seasons of South Park and The Fairly OddParents. She did voice work for over 400 television commercials and voiced over 100 cartoon, movie & video game characters throughout her career.
Bergman was married to actor, director, producer and screenwriter Dino Andrade. Bergman committed suicide in November 1999. Shortly after her death, Andrade established the Mary Kay Bergman Memorial Fund.
Mary Kay Bergman was born on June 5, 1961, in Los Angeles. She was the only child of musicians David "Dave" Bergman and Patricia Paris "Pat" McGowan. She grew up around the corner from the home of Adriana Caselotti, the original voice of Snow White.
Her parents performed as a singing duo at lounges and clubs in Reno and Las Vegas and in Los Angeles. They settled in Los Angeles after her mother became pregnant. Characterizing her mother's previous work inking and painting cels for Fleischer, Bergman said it was a mechanical task, but it piqued her mother's interest in animation that was shared with Bergman years later by watching Saturday morning cartoon series with her. Among Bergman's favorite series were Jonny Quest, The Flintstones, and Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, which she considered a "precursor to The Simpsons."
Bergman attended Le Conte Middle School and Hollywood High School, graduating in June 1978 with top academic honors. Following in the steps of one of her idols, Carol Burnett, Bergman attended University of California, Los Angeles and studied theater arts from 1978 until 1981. She was a classmate and friend of future The Simpsons voice actress Nancy Cartwright.
She and Dino Andrade were married on April 7, 1990.
After getting cast in an equity-waiver play outside of school, Bergman decided to leave UCLA. Having started acting in high school plays, she got an agent for on-camera commercials, film, and television and studied privately with acting coach Harry Mastrogeorge for several years. And at age 16, Bergman received her first professional acting job in the TV movie Return Engagement, which starred Elizabeth Taylor. After leaving school, Bergman joined a small agency that had started six months earlier. She had an audition for an exercise program that was going to be on TV and got the role. She was hired because she had a "nice figure" but could also be a dancer, comedian, singer, or impressionist. However, not a week after she got the job, the agency closed. Bergman said, "Everything fell apart. I thought, 'I'm really not getting anywhere. Maybe I should give up this silly dream of mine about becoming this great star and actually get a real job.'"
Bergman's next post was as a receptionist for the Boy Scouts of America. She enjoyed the job and was pleased to work with the people of the organization. Bergman commented, "All the time I kept hearing, 'Gosh, you have a lovely speaking voice. You should do something with that.'" She worked as a receptionist for an insurance company and from there she moved up the ranks to become an assistant underwriter, which she found extremely boring. To break the monotony, Bergman thought about becoming a disc jockey but could not find information about where to take classes and considered a career in the Air Force.
Bergman's origins of her voice acting can be traced to when she attended a housewarming party at one of her co-workers' houses. Someone brought a karaoke machine to the party and Mary Kay started "going wild." One of the guests at the party was studying with voice-over coach Kat Lehman and suggested she take a class with his teacher, which she did.
Bergman took many voice-over classes to do many different styles and voices. Some specialized in animation, some in ADR/looping, and others in commercial and improvisation. Bergman studied the voice of a character if she was matching a voice. Bergman stated that accents came very easily to her. She stated that she enjoyed doing accents such as Chinese, Japanese, Australian, English, American, French, German, Spanish and Italian.
In 1994, Bergman started teaching the technique of doing voice-overs for animation at the Kalmenson and Kalmenson Studios in Burbank, California. After voicing as the villain, Dr. Blight, on the series Captain Planet and the Planeteers, replacing Meg Ryan, she acquired a reputation for voice matching and began doing these matches for other actors such as Jodie Foster, Gillian Anderson, Helen Hunt, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Tilly, Emma Thompson, and Alfre Woodard.
After her first voice role as a frightened woman in a radio commercial for a small home security company on a local station in 1986 and a few more radio spots in 1989, Bergman was not making enough to earn a living, so she worked part-time at Robinsons department store. During this time, she got the role with Disney as the voice of Snow White on tape, replacing Adriana Caselotti. She told her boss she needed the day off for the recording, but he refused and she left the post.
Disney was pleased with her performance, but she agreed to accept future jobs only when Caselotti was unavailable. She later learned that Disney had different plans. When Disney was releasing a restored version of Snow White, Caselotti was brought back in to record a scene that was missing its audio track. After the studio executives listened to her work, they chose to have Bergman record the scene instead. Caselotti was unaware her voice had been replaced until the 1993 Academy Awards, when she heard Bergman as Snow White presenting an award for best animated short subject. Disney received hundreds of complaints after the ceremony, noting the changes to the Snow White character which Jeffrey Katzenberg had made. Katzenberg apologized and Bergman did not publicly admit to voicing Snow White while Caselotti was still alive.
Bergman was the original voice for most of the female characters for South Park and the feature film South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999). Her characters included Liane Cartman, Sheila Broflovski, Shelly Marsh, Sharon Marsh, Mrs. McCormick and Wendy Testaburger. She was originally credited as Shannen Cassidy (taken from stars Shannen Doherty and David Cassidy) out of concerns regarding possible conflicts with her continued work as Disney's official Snow White voice. "It was a conscious decision to be anonymous at first, because none of us knew the show would be a hit, and if anyone tells you they did, they're lying", she said. "Then it did hit, and Shannen Cassidy was getting mail like Santa Claus, so we transitioned out of it." Bergman credited South Park for pulling her out of a typecasting rut. "I'm known for these sweet, cute little characters", she said, noting her roles in various Disney films. "So I've been doing them forever. My agents were trying to submit me on shows that are edgy, and they're laughing, 'Mary Kay, are you kidding? No way!'" After Bergman's death, the two episodes "Starvin' Marvin in Space" (the final episode for which she recorded original dialogue) and "Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics" (the final episode in which her voice was used via archive footage) were dedicated in her memory.
Bergman worked on over 400 television commercials, including the voice of Mrs. Butterworth in Mrs. Butterworth's syrup commercials. She had roles in many Disney films, including Beauty and the Beast, as the Bimbettes, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, as Quasimodo's mother, Hercules, as several female characters, Mulan, as the female ancestors, and the posthumously released Toy Story 2, where she provided the yodeling for Joan Cusack's Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl, as well as the voice of Jessie for the line of Toy Story 2 talking toys and games. Her video games roles included The Curse of Monkey Island and the English version of Tenchu 2: Birth of the Stealth Assassins.
She worked on other series including Jay Jay the Jet Plane, Oh Yeah! Cartoons, The Fairly OddParents, and several female voices in The Tick animated series. She also provided the voice of Gwen Stacy in the final episode of Spider-Man. Bergman voiced the Scooby-Doo character Daphne Blake in Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (1998), Scooby-Doo! and the Witch's Ghost (1999) and Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders (2000), this last one being a posthumous release and final film role, dedicated to her. Bergman's other film role was in Balto II: Wolf Quest (2002) released three years after her death, in which she voiced a vixen and a wolverine.
Bergman contributed vocals to the "Weird Al" Yankovic song "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi", alongside Tress MacNeille. Al stated:
Originally I had Mary Kay come in to sing the whole song. I basically wanted her to do the voice of Kyle's mom from South Park. Her agent wouldn't let her do it (thinking that it might get her in trouble with Comedy Central)—so Mary Kay wound up doing kind of a squeaky voice instead. Later, I decided that the "squeaky voice" thing really wasn't what I was looking for, so I called in my old friend Tress to do her Fran Drescher impersonation instead. The part that you can still hear Mary Kay on is the line in the middle of the song where she does the very Gentile-sounding "for a Rab-bi...".
Bergman suffered from bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, which she hid from her family, friends and co-stars. When her mother was diagnosed with cancer, Bergman's depression was mistaken as a reaction to her mother's illness along with job-related stress. Andrade said that he found herbal mood medications that Bergman had hidden in their home.
Bergman had privately confessed to her husband that she was afraid of losing her talent, as sessions were not going well, and soon people would know she had lost it and that would be the end of her career. Andrade later regretted Bergman told nobody about her distress. As time went by, Bergman's fears seemed to lessen as her mother was doing better. Bergman and her husband were also making plans to buy a new house within a year, but she still suffered physically. Because of this, Bergman and her husband decided to have an elaborate vacation in Las Vegas, which they had planned a week before her death.
On the morning of November 11, 1999, Bergman contributed to a radio show celebrating Disneyland's 45th anniversary. She was last seen alive at 9 p.m., while she was talking to a friend on the phone. An hour and 20 minutes later, her husband and his friend, John Bell, returned home to find that she had shot herself. The police pronounced her dead at 10:18 p.m.
Dino Andrade established the Mary Kay Bergman Memorial Fund, which contributes to operation of the Suicide Prevention Center at the Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center. To benefit the Mary Kay Bergman Memorial Fund, a Memorial Celebration and Concert was held in March 2000. Many industry voice actors came to the event including Jane Jacobs, Mona Marshall (who would be one of her South Park successors), Barbara Goodson and Diane Michelle, all of whom sang in the choir. The service was held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in the Blossom Room, where the first Academy Awards was presented in 1929. Also contributing to the memorial fund was March 28, 2000's Los Angeles edition of the Daily Variety magazine, which ran a full-page Oscar version of the Open Letter to All by Andrade.
Bob's Video, made by Mary Kay & Dino's production company, Klaxon Filmworks, had been completed before Bergman died but was posthumously shown at the HBO Urban World Film Festival, at the Blue Sky Festival, and at a Mary Kay Bergman memorial screening. This included her only live action role, a few voice roles, still photography, and work as executive producer for the film.
Bergman's interview on Nightcap, a show by Chapman University, was recorded on November 5, 1999, but was aired posthumously. The episode was dedicated to her.
Al Lowe, who had worked with Bergman on 3 Leisure Suit Larry video games, posted a tribute to her on his website. He stated, "Mary Kay was the sort of person who could light up a room just by entering. She was a joy to work with and made me look good as a novice voice-over director. It was therefore even more shocking when I learned that she had taken her own life."
Bergman is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills. Bergman's mother Pat died less than a year after her daughter's suicide.
In an August 2010 interview, Bergman's friend and student Grey DeLisle said of her:
She was just the sweetest, most wonderful person in the world... and then she killed herself. Her husband came and stayed with me at my house, because he said, "I can't stay over there, it's too painful." And about a week later, they asked me to audition for Daphne ... and I didn't know what to do, because I just thought, "Gosh, I just don't know if I can do that." I told him, "They asked me to audition, but I'm not going to audition, because it's just weird." And he said, "Grey, you have to do it, because Mary Kay would've wanted you to do it. You were her star student, she loved you, and she would've wanted you to do Daphne. Somebody's going to do it. It might as well be someone who loved her." And I was, like, "I didn't really think about it like that." So I went in, and I didn't study it, because I just thought, "You know what? I’m just going to go in, and I’m just going to do my best interpretation of the character. I'm not going to try and sound-match her, because it would just be too sad to listen to her voice." So I went in, and Eddie – the engineer at the time – and Collette Sunderman, the director, she just said, "When you came in, Grey, it was just eerie. It was like there was some other hand in it, because you sounded exactly like Mary Kay." So I guess it was meant to be, because I didn't try. It just came out that way. They wanted me to speak at her memorial, and her husband really wanted me to speak, but I just couldn't talk. I just kept crying and crying and... oh, would you look at me with the crying? Here I am talking about crying again. (Laughs) You're thinking, "This girl's a mess!" But, yeah, it was an interesting turn of events to get to play Daphne, but I'm so glad that I have the role, and I was glad that I was able to carry that on for her. She set the bar very high.
In a March 2000 interview, South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker said about Bergman:
We kind of realized right away that one person wasn't going to do it, cause that's what she was amazing at, which was she could do so many different voices, and we had her just do all of them cause she could. And so we knew, and we know, we're still in the process of finding a lot of talented voice people there that can do one or two of the voices that she did. But it's going to take four to five people to replace her. ... Because we are in this thing where we do shows two weeks ahead of time, when it happened it was really tough because we had three shows to do ... and we knew we weren't going to find anyone at the time, so we just wrote three episodes with no female characters in them.