Gordon Pinsent, the admired Canadian actor who starred opposite Julie Christie as a husband losing his wife to Alzheimer’s disease in Sarah Polley’s Away From Her, died Saturday, his family announced. He was 92.
A household name in his country, Pinsent also appeared on the big screen in Norman Jewison’s The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Lasse Hallström’s The Shipping News (2001), Michael McGowan’s Saint Ralph (2004) and Don McKellar’s The Grand Seduction (2013).
On television, he played Possum Lake resident Hap Shaughnessy, a teller of tall tales, on the Canadian comedy The Red Green Show from 1991-2004 and was Chicago-based Royal Canadian Mounted Police sergeant Bob Fraser on the CTV/CBS series Due South from 1994-99.
And he served as the distinctive voice of Babar the Elephant in film and TV from 1989 through 2015.
In Away From Her (2006), which marked Polley’s directorial debut — she also received an Oscar nomination for best screenplay — Pinsent played Grant Anderson, an Ontario man whose wife (Christie) slowly loses all memory of him while becoming involved with another resident at her nursing home.
Pinsent’s wife of 45 years, actress Charmion King, died in 2007 after a long battle with emphysema. She suggested he take the role, and he won the last of his three Genie Awards for his heartbreaking performance.
[His wife’s illness] “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,” he told the CBC in an interview that year.
“It’s almost impossible to grasp… how do you prepare? Where does love go? Where do you go, the remainder?”
The youngest of six children, Gordon Edward Pinsen was born on July 12, 1930, in Grand Falls, Newfoundland. His father, Stephen, was a paper mill worker.
Pinsent, who suffered from rickets as a child, began acting on the stage at 17 in Winnipeg and landed roles on CBC radio dramas before serving four years with the Canadian Army. He joined the Stratford Festival in 1962 and appeared in Macbeth, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest and Cyrano de Bergerac. (He received the theater company’s inaugural lifetime achievement award in 2008.)
In 1970, he portrayed the US president in the sci-fi classic Colossus: The Forbin Projectdirected by Joseph Sargent, then landed a role in the cult movie Blacula two years later.
Pinsent wrote two Newfoundland-set novels, The Rowdyman and John and the Missus, that were turned into features in 1972 and 1987, respectively. He acted in both films and directed the latter.
Nominated for six Genie Awards, he also won for Klondike Fever (1980) and John and the Missus.
In 1979, he was made an officer of the Order of Canada, then promoted to Companion in 1998. At age 80, he found a legion of new fans after he read Justin Bieber’s memoir with great sincerity on the CBC’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes.
Pinsent published memoirs in 1994 and 2012 and was the subject of a 2016 documentary, The River of My Dreams.
Survivors include his children, Leah (and her husband, Peter Keleghan, both actors), Beverly and Barry (also an actor).
“Gordon passionately loved this country and its people, purpose and culture to his last breath,” they said in a statement.