Remembering Brent Carver: A legend of Broadway who kept his B.C. roots strong

Over the years, the Cranbrook thespian earned his place as one of Canada’s greatest actors

Cranbrook’s Brent Carver, one of Cranbrook’s greatest stage actors, has passed away.

The long-time star and master craftsman of Broadway, the West End, and the Stratford Festival passed away at home in Cranbrook on August 4.

“Our family is sharing news of Brent Carver’s passing at home in Cranbrook, B.C., his birthplace and favourite place on Earth,” the family wrote in a release this week.

“Blessed with many talents and a natural love of theatre, Brent was always known as a first-class performer, unique in the presentation of his craft, delighting audiences through film, TV, stage and concert performances.”

Carver graduated from Mount Baker Secondary School in 1969. For the valedictory address of his graduating class, he sang a Broadway show tune — a portend of how and where he would take his life.

He began studies at the University of British Columbia but left in 1972 to pursue a career in theater, performing in the Vancouver Arts Club’s production of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. He appeared in the CBC sitcom Leo and Me with Michael J. Fox (which didn’t air until 1981). Other TV work at this time included the hip TV series Inside Canada and the TV movie Crossbar.

He made his breakthrough on the U.S. stage in Los Angeles in 1979, playing Ariel in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Anthony Hopkins played Prospero.

In the 1980s, Carver took on an immense number of roles in TV, films and on the stage, and he became an international star in Toronto, New York and London for his role as Molina in the Kiss of the Spider Woman, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical in 1993, as well as a New York Drama Desk Award, a Dora Award, and an Olivier Award nomination. He can be heard on the original London cast recording.

Above: Brent Carver as Hamlet, Stratford Festival, 1986. (Photo courtesy Stratford Festival)

Carver had a long association with the Stratford Festival in Ontario.

“Brent was an artist who demanded the utmost of himself, opening up his heart to reveal the pain and beauty of life. He was an inspiration to everyone who knew him,” said Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino.

“Like Cleopatra, he had infinite variety: he was fire and air and he now leaves the other elements, earth and water, to this mortal life. In his nine seasons at Stratford he moved audiences in dramatic, comedic and musical roles. There was truly no one like him.”

He made his Stratford debut in 1980, playing Edmund Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. That same season he played Henry Paddington in The Beggar’s Opera, Dillard Nations in Foxfire and Florindo Aretusi in The Servant of Two Masters.

His other Stratford roles include Hamlet in both Hamlet and Rozencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead in 1986; Don John in 1987’s Much Ado About Nothing; Ned and Beatrice in the world première of Timothy Findley’s Elizabeth Rex in 2000; and Jaques in 2010’s As You Like It.

As well as becoming one of Canada’s top Shakespearian actors, his musical roles at Stratford were many and varied.

His final performances at Stratford were in 2017, playing Feste in Martha Henry’s production of Twelfth Night and Rowley in Antoni Cimolino’s production of The School for Scandal. That same year he presented his remarkable cabaret with The Art of Time Ensemble at the Avon Theatre.

“Everyone in Stratford is devastated by this tragic news,” said Cimolino. “He was the best of us and represented the best in us. He was singular: an original in every sense. And yet his heart was so big it encompassed us all and made us one. Our thoughts are with his family and all who loved him.”

Carver’s career culminated in a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award For Lifetime Artistic Achievement in 2014 — a proud moment for our entire family, their statement read.

“But Brent, in his humble fashion, will be remembered as the kind, gentle and gifted man he was, with the deepest love as a true friend and family member.

Toronto was Carver’s home for many years, but his roots in Cranbrook were deep. He told the Townsman in 2014 how he appreciated the vibrancy of the local theatrical communities, students and adults. “It’s a vibrant (acting) community, with lots of passion.”

Carver also won huge acclaim for his role of the deformed Victorian celebrity John Merrick in The Elephant Man in 2007. He was cast as Gandalf in a musical production of Lord Of The Rings the year before, in 2006.

“His love of performing was matched only by his zest for life and lifetime devotion to family, friends and treasured pets,” the family said.

“Thank you to the performing arts community for embracing our Brent and helping him fulfill his dreams with joy in his heart. Brent will be missed.”

Brent was predeceased by his parents, Ken and Lois Carver, his sister Sherry Laurie and brothers Archie and Danny. He is survived by his sisters Vicki Stanley (Donald) and Frankie Reekie (Kelly), and brothers Randy (Janine) and Shawn (Alisha), as well as many nieces and nephews and grand-nieces and -nephews.

With files from broadway.com

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