Canadian actor and comedian Roger Abbott has died, a friend and fellow player in CBC's Royal Canadian Air Farce confirmed Sunday.
Don Ferguson said Abbott, 64, died Saturday night at Toronto General Hospital, 14 years after being diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
He kept the progressive disease secret from all but a few close friends and family until a week ago, Ferguson said.
"Roger was the guiding light of Royal Canadian Air Farce since it began in 1973, and all of us who have had the honour of working with him and the pleasure of knowing him will dearly miss his kindness, generosity, integrity, leadership and wonderful sense of humour," he said.
Abbott, Ferguson and Luba Goy were part of the original troupe that began the political satire on CBC Radio in 1973, and they were together for the final episode on television, a New Year's Eve special Final Flight!, filmed at CBC studios in downtown Toronto and broadcast in 2008.
"Roger Abbott was, quite simply, at the very heart of the CBC family," said Kirstine Stewart, CBC's executive vice-president of English services, in a statement on Sunday.
"As one of the founders of the Royal Canadian Air Farce, first on radio, then on television, he was, to generations of fans, among the best-known and loved in the history of Canadian comedy. I would extend on behalf of CBC our deepest condolences to his family and friends."
Born in Birkenhead, England, Abbott moved to Canada in 1953, arriving in Montreal with his parents and sister. He attended Loyola High School, where he met Ferguson, and in 1963 went on to study at Loyola College, now Concordia University.
Some of Abbott's most memorable impersonations on Air Farce have included former prime minister Jean Chrétien, CBC chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge, singer Leonard Cohen and the misogynist TV critic Gilbert Smythe Bite-Me.
"Political satire is supposed to be politically incorrect — that's the point!" Abbott is quoted as saying in his online biography.
"Even if a joke is politically incorrect, if a joke is really funny, the audience won't filter the laughs. They may feel guilty about it later, but they'll laugh."
Abbott was featured in a segment of Air Farce called A Politically Correct Minute, in which his character poked fun at efforts to change some of the lyrics to Canada's national anthem — in all thy sons command — to make them more inclusive:
"A more acceptable phrase would be, in all thy gender-non-specific-spousal-offsprings command," he quipped.
Abbott, Ferguson longtime collaborators
Abbott and Ferguson not only produced Royal Canadian Air Farce, but were also producers for comedian-actor Dave Broadfoot's three TV specials in 1996, 1999 and 2002, as well as the comedy series Sketchcom in 1998. Their roles as producers continued on the sitcom XPM in 2004.
A CBC biography series quoted Ferguson as saying that working together was like a marriage — "For better or worse, we're going to stick together," to which Abbott added: "And just like a marriage, there's no sex."
Abbott has received numerous awards for his work, including 15 Actra awards, a Juno and the Governor General's Performing Arts Award and was honoured with a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.