ORONTO — Theatre star Michael Burgess — who dazzled Toronto audiences as Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables” and was well-known to sports fans for his stirring rendition of “O Canada” — died Monday at age 70.
The famed tenor passed away in a Toronto hospice Monday evening surrounded by members of his family, said Bruce Bowser, a family friend. Burgess had been battling cancer for a number of years.
In a statement Monday night, theatre impresario David Mirvish said Burgess “created the role of Jean Valjean in ‘Les Miserables,’ which was one of the first international blockbusters to have its own production in Canada with a local cast, instead of a touring version.”
“He was magnificent in the role and led the all-Canadian cast to great heights,” Mirvish said.
“He will be sorely missed.”
The Regina-born Burgess played the role of Jean Valjean in more than 1,000 performances of “Les Miserables” at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra theatre and on the cross-Canada tour.
He took the role across Canada on the first national tour of the production, and also appeared for the 10th anniversary concert at Royal Albert Hall in London.
Burgess was also known to hockey fans for singing the national anthem for many years at Toronto Maple Leafs home games and was the first person to sing “O Canada” at a World Series baseball game.
He was also known for his work on TV productions of “H.M.S. Pinafore,” “You Must Remember This” and “The Sandy Bottom Orchestra.”
Burgess also played roles in TV series such as “Street Legal,” “Border Town,” and “E.N.G..”
He was inducted into the Bobby Orr Hall of Fame in Parry Sound, Ont., in 2013 and the Hall’s website says “his performance of ‘Danny Boy’ has often brought our audiences to tears.”
Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre and Royal Alexandra Theatre will dim their marquee lights on Tuesday night for two minutes in Burgess’s memory.
Bowser says a funeral for Burgess is planned for Oct. 5.