Winnipeg actor and musician Gene Pyrz has died at the age of 56 after a battle with cancer. 

Pyrz was a popular actor on many Winnipeg stages. He also appeared in movies such as Cinderella Man and Resident Evil: Apocalypse.

Derek Aasland, currently artistic director of Manitoba Theatre for Young People, has many fond memories of working with Pyrz on stage, in film and in music.

"He was a wonderful man, an incredible performer," he said.

"He was bubbly, absolutely lovable, like my bigger brother. I treasure every hour I got to spend on stage with Gene. It was always a delight and a joy to work with him. Some of my most memorable shows were with Gene."

Pyrz co-founded and performed in a number of early productions of Shakespeare in the Ruins. Aasland recalls Pyrz's performance as Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

"He's just a madman on the stage. And what he brought to the role of Bottom had people literally screaming with laughter," he said. "With his delivery and his insouciance and his basic trickster nature, he would just pull the laughter out of people."

Aasland said he will never forget one remarkable production in which Pyrz played the title role in Macbeth at the ruins. "In one of the final performances lightening struck and thunder punctuated each and every one of his major lines."

Afterwards
Pyrz is reported to have said that he could retire after that show, that he never needed to do anything again after that.

Aasland also worked with Pyrz on some musical ideas in studio and some big band projects. Pyrz was vocalist and bassist in the rockabilly band Combo Combo. Aasland recalled their legendary New Year's Eve shows at the Bella Vista. 

"Everyone would wait until just the moment before midnight when Gene would take his bull whip and go outside into the -30 and whip the lamp post 12 times. It was a highlight."

One year Keanu Reeves even came to the New Year's event when they were performing Hamlet together at MTC.

"The  music that he played, the heart and soul that went into it, ran in his blood," said Aasland.