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R.I.P. John Neville (1925 – 2011)

by on 2011/11/21


In high school, a friend and I made what seemed at the time to be an ambitious pilgrimage, to a movie theatre northwest of Yonge and Sheppard in Toronto. It was one of the few playing The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, a quirky high fantasy adventure in the spirit Brazil and Time Bandits.

Directed by Terry Gilliam (Twelve Monkeys), and featuring Eric Idle (Not the Messiah), we were energized by its potential to be a quasi-Monty-Python experience. Little did I realize it then, but we were to see a whole lot more of two of its less-familiar participants: a young girl named Sarah Polley, and an older gentleman, John Neville.

Polley will be recognized by any fan of Canadian Content, but Neville’s face may be just as well-known to many more. Formerly the artistic director of the successful Stratford Festival, he recently died in Toronto, at the age of 86. He’s survived by his wife of over sixty years, and the couple’s six children.

An acclaimed Shakespearean actor, and already a member of the Order of the British Empire since 1965, he long aspired to the Order of Canada, a dream which became reality in 2006. Fiercely proud of his ties to Canada, he is nonetheless a welcome sight to millions outside of its borders, and around the world.

In the wake of Munchausen, throughout the 1990s, he enjoyed a string of great character roles which would endear him to genre geeks everywhere. He appeared in feature films like The Fifth Element and Hollywood North, television movies like Escape from the Newsroom and the biopic Trudeau, but his TV series work put him over the top. Canadians will know F/X, Road to Avonlea, and Emily of New Moon. The entire world will recognize X-Files and Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the former’s series and theatrical debut, he was the Syndicate’s Well-Manicured Man; in the latter, he was the go-to player for the holodeck’s Isaac Newton.

Neville proved it is never too late to nurture — and realize — one’s dreams. At an age when most people think retirement, he was just getting started, planting the seeds for a harvest we continue to be thankful for.


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