Nfld. & Labrador

'Larger than life': John Crosbie remembered for his contributions to N.L. arts

Former politician John Crosbie passed away Friday at the age of 88. Along with a slew of other things, he’s being remembered for his contributions to the arts in the province.

'Everybody wanted to play John Crosbie ... He was the king,' says Donna Butt

John Crosbie died Friday at the age of 88. (John Rieti)

Over the years, politician John Crosbie was impersonated dozens of times in comedy acts and theatrical performances, but why was the man a target for so much satire?

Donna Butt, artistic director of Rising Tide Theatre, says it's partially because he played such a critical role in important moments in the province's history, but also because he was self-assured and extremely unscripted.

"Great characters in theatre are larger than life, characters that are willing to go to great heights or great lows," said Butt.

"He had great highs and lows. That made him a tremendously appealing character."

Crosbie passed away Friday at the age of 88. Along with a slew of other things, he's being remembered for his contributions to the arts in the province.

John loved this place.- Donna Butt

Butt said in almost every Revue tour, an annual show that uses comedy and satire to comment on major Newfoundland and Labrador events, Crosbie was featured.

"Everybody wanted to play John Crosbie. I mean, he was the king."

Donna Butt is the artistic director of Rising Tide Theatre. (CBC )

Butt said she still remembers encountering him at a performance Rising Tide Theatre was doing on Joey Smallwood in the early '80s.

On the opening night, she said, Smallwood sat in one of the box seats on one side of the theatre and Crosbie in a box seat on the opposite side.

"My impression of him was that he would forever do what he wanted to do — now, you either liked what he did or you hated what he did, but he was going to do it. He is larger than life and he is not packaged."

This year's Revue tour starts Thursday 6 in St. John's. Butt said they will be addressing Crosbie's death in their performances.

"Anybody who loved and fought for Newfoundland and Labrador as hard as he did with such great vigour will always be an important figure to arts in culture in any place."

"We fought the same fight. John loved this place."

'He's like our guard dog'

Comedian Mark Critch remembers calling up Crosbie when Critch was 27 years old to do a small pilot show on CBC. 

Critch asked Crosbie to sing Tequila Sheila on stage, to poke fun at the controversy Crosbie sparked after he quoted the song's lyrics — "pass the tequila, Sheila" — in reference to Liberal MP Sheila Copps at a fundraising dinner. 

A year later, the tape was used in an audition reel that helped Critch land a job on This Hour has 22 Minutes.

"How did you get John Crosbie to agree to that?" Critch said the producers of the show wondered.

"I asked him," Critch responded. "He would do stuff for people…… [He was] a big helper of people in quiet ways," said Critch.

Critch said he also remembers Crosbie playing ball hockey with Newfoundland band Great Big Sea.

"He's like our guard dog.… He didn't back down."

Crosbie's remains will rest in state the Confederation Building, a rare honour not seen since former premier Smallwood died in 1991. Public visitation will be held at the House of Assembly on Jan. 14-15 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. NT.

A televised funeral service will be held at the Anglican Cathedral in St. John's on Jan. 16 at 2 p.m. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Weekend AM