Charmion King is shown with husband Gordon Pinsent and daughter Leah at the Gemini Awards in Toronto in October 2003. King died in Toronto on Saturday. ((Steve Russell/Canadian Press) )

Charmion King, a veteran stage actress and wife of actor Gordon Pinsent, died in Toronto on Saturday at the age of 81.

In a career spanning almost 60 years, King appeared on film, television and radio, but her first love was the stage and she was often referred to as the "Grande dame of Canadian theatre."

Born in Toronto on July 25, 1925,she played St. Joan in a critically acclaimed performance at Hart House Theatreat the University of Toronto.

Her professional career began at the Crest Theatre in Toronto, where sheperformed in Chekhov's Three Sisters opposite Kate Reid and Amelia Hall.

She was also adriving force for the summer stock companyStraw Hat Players of Muskoka, Ont., andspent several seasons at the Stratford Shakespearean festival.

On stage, she was unforgettable — grand and theatrical, but also warm and human.

"There is an excitement in live theatre that doesn't exist in other mediums," she told the Toronto Star in 1986.

"I suppose because you really open yourself up. You are at your most vulnerable and you give to the audience. That can be traumatic if they don't like it but if they do, it is the most rewarding thing in the world."

During a 1962 Crest Theatre production of The Madwoman of Chaillot, she first played opposite Gordon Pinsent, who became her husband of 44 years.

Their daughter, Leah, also took to acting and starred alongside her mother in Toronto's Tarragon Theatre production of Emphysema in 1998.

Kingput her stamp on the part of Jessica Logan, the temperamental actress attempting a comeback in David French's show-business comedy Jitters.She played the role atthe Tarragon in 1979, at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre in the same year and in a Toronto revival in 1986.

Took TV, movie roles

Her last stage role was in Soulpepper Theatre Company's production of Our Town last February.

She took parts in a number of TV series over the years, including The Newsroom, Twitch City,Wind at My Back and Anne of Green Gables.

She also starred in movies, including Who Has Seen the Wind and Nobody Waved Goodbye.

There will be a private family funeral, with a memorial to be announced at a later date.

Pinsent asked that donations in lieu of flowers be made to the Actors' Fund of Canada.