Gordon Pinsent, Canadian acting icon, dead at 92

Gordon Pinsent has died, his family said in a statement late Saturday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Gordon Pinsent has died, his family said in a statement late Saturday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Gordon Pinsent, one of Canada's most prolific and iconic actors, has died. He was 92.

"Gordon Pinsent's daughters Leah and Beverly, and his son Barry, would like to announce the passing of their father peacefully in sleep today with his family at his side," said a note released late Saturday, written on behalf of Pinsent's family by his son-in-law, actor Peter Keleghan.

"Gordon passionately loved this country and its people, purpose, and culture to his last breath."

The Grand Falls, N.L., native and Canadian household name had a storied acting career spanning dozens of films and TV projects over six decades, including Due South, The Red Green Show, Babar and the Adventures of Badou, The Grand Seduction and The Shipping News.

Focusing on CBC programs alone, one could add The Forest Rangers, Quentin Durgens, M.P., the original Street Legal and Republic of Doyle, among others.

In the U.S., where he lived in Los Angeles for six years, it was such TV series and movies as It Takes A Thief, Silence of the North, Young Prosecutors, Banacek, and the feature film The Thomas Crown Affair.

"My whole career has depended on the happiness that I get when asked to do something," Pinsent said in a 2010 Toronto Life interview. "Pick up the phone and say 'yes.' I do that a lot."

Comedian and actor Mark Critch, a fellow Newfoundlander, said he will miss Pinsent as a mentor, friend, hero and "giant colossus of Canadian entertainment."

Actors in Canada are following "on a path that [Pinsent] cut through a forest," Critch said.

Born on July 12, 1930, Pinsent was the youngest of six children born to Stephen Pinsent, a paper mill worker and cobbler, and his wife, Flossie.

Pinsent said he was a shy, awkward child who once suffered from rickets but found freedom in acting, starting in the 1940s at the age of 17.

In the early 1950s, Pinsent took a break from acting and joined the Canadian Army, serving for about four years. But acting was his true love.

More than 150 roles

Pinsent joined the Stratford Festival in 1962 with roles in MacbethThe Taming of the ShrewThe Tempest and Cyrano de Bergerac, and he returned to Stratford in the mid-'70s as a leading player.

He had more than 150 TV and movie acting credits to his name, with his Internet Movie Database resumé spanning from a 1957 TV movie to a cartoon voice in 2021.

A companion of the Order of Canada and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Pinsent also received the Governor General's Performing Arts Award, the Earle Grey Award for lifetime achievement in television, and a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.

He won every major acting prize in the country, including the Genie for best actor in 2001's The Shipping News, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Annie Proulx.

Five years later, Pinsent won best actor Genie and ACTRA awards for his internationally recognized work in Sarah Polley's Away From Her.

WATCH | Pinsent found freedom in acting: 

'Extraordinary' performance

In the 2016 documentary about his life, The River of My Dreams — a film where a reflective, sometimes impish Pinsent speaks in eloquent paragraphs infused with his Newfoundland accenthe says his wife, the actress Charmion King, suggested he take the role, which turned out to be the high-water mark for his career.

Canadian director Norman Jewison said in the same doc that Pinsent's performance in Away From Her of a man losing his wife (Julie Christie) to Alzheimer's disease was "extraordinary."

"It was so simple, yet so powerful and so moving," Jewison said of Pinsent. "And I think a lot of it was because you believed him."

Those types of kudos tickled the modest Pinsent.

"Now you see, I don't talk that way about myself, so I was pleased — it was just terrific," he said about similar praise at the time from English actor Daniel Day-Lewis.

WATCH | Gordon Pinsent speaks about Away From Her 16 years ago:

Amid the plaudits, Pinsent had a tragedy in his personal life as the film was being released: King, his wife of 45 years, died in January 2007 after a long struggle with emphysema.

"It was something I wasn't necessarily drawing on except in the general sense of how anyone must feel at a certain time of life after spending so many years with a partner," an emotional Pinsent said then.

"It's almost impossible to grasp ... how do you prepare? Where does love go? Where do you go, the leftover?"

King and Pinsent had one child together, actress Leah Pinsent. He also had two children from an earlier marriage, Barry and Beverly.

A Renaissance man

Pinsent was also a painter, a writer, a playwright and a director. Two of his Newfoundland-set novels, The Rowdyman and John and the Missus, were turned into feature films. Pinsent starred in the former and both directed and acted in the latter.

His memoirs, By the Way, were published in 1994.

Though he struggled with chronic pain in his later years, Pinsent remained prolific, with about 20 acting credits during the 2010s.

At age 80, he went viral on CBC's This Hour Has 22 Minutes by reading 16-year-old Justin Bieber's memoir with mock gravitas.

Pinsent reads Justin Bieber's memoir:

And at 81, he put out an album of his own poetry set to rock music by Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo and Travis Good of The Sadies.

In 2016, he released a short film he wrote and self-funded called Martin's Hagge, about a middle-aged writer burdened by a personified version of anxiety and depression.

He said he kept working because each new project felt like getting away with something he didn't quite deserve.

"I ran fast before they could catch me and say, 'No, no, acting is for silly people!'" he told CBC News in 2010.

WATCH | George Stroumboulopoulos speaks with Pinsent in 2011:

Canadian actor R.H. Thomson, who has been almost as prolific as Pinsent, said in the 2016 documentary that artists have an enormous role in how a country's "cloth is woven."

"And artists like Gordon ... [have] pulled that thread back and forth, as Canada's loom has made this cloth of who we are and where we've been and where we're going to," he said.

"And that colour of Gordon Pinsent going through and through the tapestry is now inevitably part of any story of Canada for me."