Arts·Year in Review

In memoriam: Canadian artists we lost in 2018

Amanda Parris pays tribute to some of the creators we lost in an overwhelming year.

Amanda Parris pays tribute to some of the creators we lost in an overwhelming year

Margot Kidder. (AFP/Getty Images)

If I had to choose one word to summarize 2018, it would be: "overwhelming." Each week it seemed there was a new tragedy to mourn, a different political disaster to protest and/or another famous man to be disappointed in.  With the magnitude of content we were bombarded with over the past 12 months it's easy to forget about the people we lost. So today I wanted to take some time to honour and acknowledge some of the creatives whose work has touched, transformed, inspired and moved the arts scene in this country.

Ronnie Prophet in 1974. (Paul Smith/CBC Still Photo Collection)

Ronnie Prophet (1937 - 2018)

In the 1970s and 1980s country music star Ronnie Prophet was a household name. With his starring appearance on The Ronnie Prophet show, he proved a charismatic and multi-talented host. Prophet combined music with comedy and brought performances from the biggest names in country music — such as Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, Jr. and Don Everly — to television screens across the country. Prophet released more than two dozen albums, won numerous awards and was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. He passed away at the age of 80.

Comedian Mike MacDonald, seen here performing at the 2015 Halifax Comedy Festival. (CBC)

Mike MacDonald (1954 - 2018)

A legend of the Canadian stand-up scene, the comedy world went into mourning when news broke that Mike MacDonald had passed away.  With Richard Pryor as his idol, MacDonald's style was an edgy, sarcastic humour that leveraged physical comedy. He appeared on Late Night With David Letterman and The Arsenio Hall Show and had three successful stand-up specials on the CBC.  A documentary about his life entitled The Mike Stand is currently in pre-production.

Kevin Tierney poses for photographers after winning the Best Motion Picture award for 'Bon Cop Bad Cop' at the Genies Awards in Toronto, Tuesday Feb.13, 2007. (CP PHOTO/) Canada (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Kevin Tierney (1950 - 2018)

The Canadian filmmaking world went into mourning earlier this year when they learned that pioneering Montreal film producer and screenwriter Kevin Tierney had passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. Tierney's inspiring catalogue includes executive producing the Gemini nominated television movie Choice: The Henry Morgentaler Story and co-writing and producing the highest grossing Canadian film of all time, the bilingual buddy copy film Bon Cop, Bad Cop.  

Margot Kidder (1948 - 2018)

Margot Kidder will always be remembered as Lois Lane, the tough and determined journalist who stole Superman's heart, however in life she proved to have just as much tenacity. Kidder was born in Yellowknife and knew after seeing her first Broadway shows that acting was what she was meant to do. Her first major film role came in 1969 when she starred in Norman Jewison's comedy Gaily, Gaily. She earned a Daytime Emmy for her work in R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour and starred in the films The Amityville Horror and Black Christmas.

Daniel Pilon. (CBS)

Daniel Pilon (1940 - 2018)

His film career began in the 1960s but it was his role in the TV show Dallas that most fans will remember where Daniel Pilon played the wealthy and villainous Renaldo "Naldo" Marchetta. Pilon's 50 year career included appearances in a number of soap operas including Ryan's Hope, Guiding Light and Days of Our Lives. Pilon also worked with a number of Canadian filmmakers including Gilles Carle on films such as Le Viol d'une Jeune Fille Douce and The Death of a Lumberjack. He passed away at the age of 77 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Denis Akiyama. (Kintaro Akiyama/Canadian Press)

Denis Akiyama (1952 - 2018)

Although many audiences will remember him as Shinji, Keanu Reeves' arch-nemesis in the film Johnny Mnemonic, Denis Akiyama had a career filled with iconic moments. There was his voice work as the Silver Samurai in the cartoon X-Men or as the villain Malachite on Sailor Moon. There was the 1980s hit single about police brutality called "Cherry Beach" that crafted alongside his band Pukka Orchestra. And there was his Toronto and Broadway performance in Miss Saigon.  Akiyama passed away from cancer this past summer at the age of 66.

Jahvante Smart, aka Smoke Dawg, right, is seen here in a photo with Toronto rapper Drake. (Instagram)

Jahvante Smart aka Smoke Dawg (1996 - 2018)

Smoke Dawg was on his way to becoming a household name in the Canadian rap scene when his life was tragically cut short alongside his friend Ernest "Kosi" Modekwe aka Koba Prime who was an artist manager and brand specialist. A member of Toronto's Regent Park rap collective Halal Gang, Smart already had notable collaborations under his belt with artists such as French Montana and Skepta. He'd also performed alongside Drake during his European tour. Smoke Dawg's album Struggle Before Glory was released posthumously in late 2018.

Big Sugar bassist Garry Lowe died after battle with cancer this year. He was 65. (Big Sugar/Facebook)

Garry Lowe (1953 - 2018)

For reggae fans across Canada, Garry Lowe is known as the man who defined the bass sound. He was part of a generation of Jamaicans who arrived in Toronto and introduced the city to the sound of reggae. Lowe quickly became one of the most in demand reggae bass players, performing with the Truth and Rights Band, in nightclubs across the city and with visiting stars such as Gregory Isaacs, Sugar Minott and Buju Banton.  In the 1990s he joined the band Big Sugar and played on eight albums including Hemi-Vision, which went platinum.  Lowe passed away this summer from cancer at the age of 64.

Montreal artist and model Rick Genest, left, is seen alongside Lady Gaga in a screengrab from her Born This Way music video. (Lady Gaga/YouTube)

Rick Genest aka Zombie Boy (1985 - 2018)

Rick Genest transformed his body into the ultimate canvass and inspired designers and musicians with his unique look. Genest got his first tattoo at the age of 16 and then continued to acquire more and more until he finally had tattoos covering 90% his body.  His unique look helped him to go from couch surfing in Montreal to modelling at fashion shows in Paris and Berlin. Lady Gaga cast Genest in her music video "Born this Way" and British artist Marc Quinn created a sculpture of him. He died in the summer of 2018.

Mary Pratt is seen in this undated handout photo. (Mary Pratt via Canadian Press )

Mary Pratt (1935 - 2018)

The Canadian art world lost one of it's most recognizable names with the passing of Mary Pratt earlier this year. Her work often captured the art in the everyday, with paintings that celebrated easily dismissed moments in domestic life. Her meticulously realistic paintings were often mistaken for photographs.  A solo retrospective of her work was held in 2015 at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa and she has been the subject of numerous books.

Priscila Uppal, Canadian poet, died on Sept. 5, 2018. (

Priscila Uppal (1974 - 2018)

An outpouring of tributes emerged this past fall when celebrated poet, memoirist and playwright Priscila Uppal passed away following a long battle with synovial sarcoma. Her prolific catalogue traversed a variety of genres, including the publication of ten books of poetry and a memoir that was shortlisted for both the Governor General's Literary Award and the Hilary Weston Writers Trust Prize. Even after her death she had two books due to be published including a book of poetry entitled On Second Thought which arrived on bookshelves in October.

Toronto artist Andre Alexander. (Hip Pop Art/Instagram)

Andre Alexander (1984 - 2018)

The death of Andre Alexander came as a shock to many creatives in the city of Toronto this past fall. Known for his painting and printmaking, Alexander was a rising name in the city's art scene securing a printmaking residency at the Gladstone Hotel's Art Hut last year and acquiring commissions from Brimz Hat Boutique.  Inspired by artists such as Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, he dubbed his art making Hip Pop Art and sold much of his work on the sidewalks of Toronto's Kensington Market. A mural dedicated to his memory was created in Kensington in the weeks following his death.

Douglas Rain is shown in a handout photo. (Terry Manzo/Stratford Festival)

Douglas Rain (1928 - 2018)

In popular culture Douglas Rain will always be remembered as the voice of Hal 9000 in Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, in Canada he will also be remembered for his illustrious theatre career. Rain returned to Canada after studying at the UK and became one of the founding members of The Stratford Festival. He performed there for 32 seasons, winning multiple Dora Mavor Moore awards. He also received a Tony nomination in the 1970s for his role in Vivat! Vivat! Regina!. Rain additionally served as the Head of the English Section of the National Theatre School.

Blanche Lund. (Supplied)

Blanche Lund (1921 - 2018)

A dancer who performed on the stage and the screen, Blanche Lund passed away in December at the age of 97. Trained in ballet, tap, jazz, ballroom and Spanish dance, Lund was a headline dancer in the musical revue Meet the Navy which traveled to entertain troops during World War II. She and her husband Alan Lund were transformed into household names when they became the the first contract dancers signed by CBC television. During the 1950s to the 1960s the couple performed on numerous variety shows and south of the border on The Ed Sullivan Show. In her later years, Lund ran a dance school in Toronto.


Amanda Parris writes a weekly column for CBC Arts and is the host of Exhibitionists on CBC Television and Marvin's Room on CBC Radio. In her spare time, she writes plays and watches too many movies. In her past lives she wrote arts based curriculum, attended numerous acting auditions, and dreamed of being interviewed by Oprah.