'He was the man on the moon': Gordon Pinsent remembered as trailblazer for N.L. artists

Gordon Pinsent, on the red carpet at the gala for The Grand Seduction during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, died on Saturday at the age of 92. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press - image credit)
Gordon Pinsent, on the red carpet at the gala for The Grand Seduction during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, died on Saturday at the age of 92. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press - image credit)

Artists throughout Newfoundland and Labrador are remembering Gordon Pinsent as a pioneering actor who paved the way for those who followed.

Pinsent died Saturday, surrounded by family. He was 92.

He was born in Grand Falls and began acting in the 1940s at the age of 17. Pinsent's prolific career would go on to include more than 150 different film and television roles, earning him every major acting award in Canada.

Actor and comedian Mark Critch says Pinsent remained young at heart despite his age.

"I got the call yesterday that he was quite ill and that this would happen, and I was shocked, you know, I'm like, 'Gordon, what happened?'

"He was that youthful, always a twinkle in the eye…. To me, he was eternally 12 years old. He always had that twinkle and he always had that excitement for what's next."

Mark Critch/Twitter
Mark Critch/Twitter

The two actors met in 2010 through a sketch Critch was working on for This Hour has 22 Minutes.

"A young man by the name of Justin Bieber brought us together, really," he said.

The pop singer had just put out a memoir, and Critch says he thought it'd be funny to have Pinsent do a dramatic reading for the show.

"And [since] then, we've just been very, very close friends. I'm a bit of an old soul and he's a bit of a young one, so we met perfectly in the middle," he said.

The pair also starred in the 2013 film The Grand Seduction together, which was shot around Newfoundland.

"Being with Gordon Pinsent in rural Newfoundland is a bit, what I would expect, like what being with Jesus in Bethlehem is like," Critch said.

"People were just coming out of the woodwork."

Pinsent was a loving and giving actor, Critch said, who was a trailblazer for all Newfoundland and Labrador artists who would follow.

"He was the man on the moon, right? He was the first of us to get anywhere like that, the first of us to make a big impact as an artist in Canada," he said.

"He went there as an immigrant, he cut the path that we all followed through the woods and he was always looking over his shoulder to see if you were OK, if you need another hand, and I think I learned to tell Newfoundland stories and always reach back and pull somebody else up with you."

'It was like a dream come true'

Fellow actor Allan Hawco says Pinsent was an inspiration who left an important legacy with his work and dearly loved his province and his country.

"He set the tone for what was possible as a young artist in me, as a young writer, as a person who wanted to bring production and work back home and to celebrate the place in film and television," said Hawco.

"He was the first person to show me that was possible."

When Hawco was a young actor, he was cast in a play with Pinsent's wife Charmion King, who introduced the two men.

"He just was so wonderful and so supportive and he made it clear that he was going to keep an interest in me and what I was doing.… It's like they became my family overnight, and they behaved like they were my family, and that was the beginning of a very long friendship and a lot of professional interaction too," Hawco said.

"It was like a dream come true. The old thing where they say 'don't meet your heroes,' well, you know, in that case, Gordon nullified that rule. He was just the most gracious, he was the perfect example of what one should be when in that circumstance."

WireImage/Getty Images
WireImage/Getty Images

He said Pinsent was generous, positive, respectful and an ambassador for his home, all things that Hawco took to heart.

"He never left Newfoundland behind even though he lived somewhere else, and that's hard to do because when we don't get to live at home and we're somewhere else and we love the place, it carries a lot of weight," he said.

"The way he described it to me was that going home and being associated with Newfoundland was the way to charge his own creative battery."

And Pinsent was more than just a good actor, said Hawco, he was a great person.

"It's not just for people in the industry to think about, you know, it's just like, watching him be so decent to every person that he came across should be inspiring to everybody and I think we can all learn from a guy like that."

'He took you with him'

Playwright and performer Bernardine Stapleton said Pinsent was someone who made a special connection with everyone he met and he remembered those interactions.

"We all feel as if we lost somebody we were really close with … whether you spent a moment with him or an hour, you were the centre of the universe for that moment," Stapleton said.

"I think the beautiful thing about Gordon Pinsent was he took you with him and kept you there. It's a very special gift, very generous."

She said he made time to perform for small, rural Newfoundland audiences long after he was a revered actor.

"A lot of his work was for love of it, I know he came to Grand Bank with me some years ago when I was running the tiniest theatre festival there," said Stapleton.

"It was always for the sake of the process and the love and his love of theatre and creativity."

Pinsent's love and passion also extended to his home province, Stapleton said.

"Gordon was about people, stories, creating stories, very much a sense of this place and he never lost it," she said.

"He was Newfoundland and Labrador to the marrow and I think that that is probably one of many, many stories of where he just came in and flew under the radar for no other reason than to be supportive."

'Candour, poignant, full of advice'

In Pinsent's hometown, the Arts and Culture Centre was renamed in his honour in 2005.

Dave Anthony has been involved in theatre in the town for years and has memories of Pinsent being an adjudicator at the provincial drama festival.

"For someone of his stature, he could have come in and just put the head up and blown everyone away, but no," he said.

"It was the local boy coming home, wanting to do right by everybody and just handled everyone so wonderfully with his adjudications. Candour, poignant, full of advice."

Anthony worked as a teacher in Bishop's Falls. He said he convinced Pinsent to come to the school and speak to the students, most of whom knew him best as the voice of King Babar.

"All you had to do was mention a little trip and a little bit of food and Gordon was there, that was our experience," said Anthony.

"He came, and, of course, a lot of the kids, they weren't fully familiar with a lot of the stage stuff — but Babar, the first thing that came out of one of their mouths, 'Sir, aren't you the guy that did that?' And of course, he was charmed by the whole thing."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador