In memoriam: David Fox, 1941-2021

Dora Award-winning titan of Canadian theatre helped create some classic roles in plays, TV and film


David Fox, one of the pioneering giants of Canadian theatre and a frequent actor in film and TV, is gone. He died peacefully in palliative care in a Toronto hospice on Saturday. He was 80.

Over the weekend, several generations of artists took to social media to share memories of him.

“50 years ago David Fox and I lay on the grass outside the Bird farmhouse at midnight, staring up at the stars and drinking and asking the profound question: ‘What the fuck is going on?’ I hope he knows now,” tweeted Miles Potter, who in the 1970s helped create the landmark Canadian play The Farm Show with Fox.

In 1999, Potter directed Fox in Michael Healey’s Farm Show-inspired play The Drawer Boy in a role that would become one of the actor’s most beloved and celebrated: that of Angus, a brain-damaged farmer and war veteran whose life is transformed by the power of theatre.

Fox won a Dora Award for that performance at Theatre Passe Muraille and in the subsequent remount at the Winter Garden Theatre as well as several regional theatres throughout the country.

With his imposing height, immediately recognizable voice and uncanny ability to be both mischievously funny or deadly sinister, he was a regular on Canadian and Toronto stages for decades. He premiered roles in future Canadian classics like John Murrell’s Farther West and Anne Chislett’s Quiet In The Land. Toronto audiences will remember his grounded, unforgettable turns in works like Scorched, No Great Mischief, The Golden Dragon, King Lear and Stuff Happens.

At the same time, he had a prolific career in film and TV. Generations of TV viewers will remember him as schoolteacher Clive Pettibone in Road To Avonlea.

“I worked with the great David Fox as a child, and a few months ago on my film Women Talking,” tweeted director, writer and actor Sarah Polley, the star of Avonlea. “On his way out of his final take in his final scene, he spontaneously waved goodbye to us. We all waved back, crying. He made you see the point of it all. Every single time.”

Musician and actor Jann Arden replied: “I was lucky enough to do a play with him at Theatre Calgary in the 80ties…. It was like being with Henry Fonda. Such a subtle pro.”

No role – or venue – was too small for Fox.

One of the last times I saw him perform live was in the tiny Red Sandcastle Theatre on Queen East, where he recited Coleridge’s The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner to a couple dozen mesmerized audience members. It was haunting. Earlier this year, he was one of the terrific ensemble members performing in front of webcams for Tarragon’s virtual streaming of Rick Roberts’s Orestes.

To honour his contributions to theatre – he starred in The Drawer Boy and Stuff Happens for Mirvish – the marquee lights of the Royal Alexandra will be dimmed tomorrow (November 17) at 8 pm.

Editor’s note: an earlier version of this story stated that Fox died from cancer. NOW regrets the error.

@glennsumi

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