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Kevin Lewis, pillar of N.L theatre who inspiring many in the arts community, dead at 81

Kevin Lewis, a prominent St. John's actor, writer and teacher who helped shape generations of local talent, died on Thursday at the age of 81. (Alexandra Noseworthy/Refined Focus Photography - image credit)
Kevin Lewis, a prominent St. John's actor, writer and teacher who helped shape generations of local talent, died on Thursday at the age of 81. (Alexandra Noseworthy/Refined Focus Photography - image credit)
Kevin Lewis, a prominent St. John's actor, writer and teacher who helped shape generations of local talent, died on Thursday at the age of 81.
Kevin Lewis, a prominent St. John's actor, writer and teacher who helped shape generations of local talent, died on Thursday at the age of 81.

Kevin Lewis, a prominent St. John's actor, writer and teacher who helped shape generations of local talent, died Thursday at the age of 81. (Alexandra Noseworthy/Refined Focus Photography)

Kevin Lewis, a prominent St. John's theatre actor, writer and teacher who helped shape generations of Newfoundland and Labrador talent, has died.

Born in Holyrood, Lewis was a key player in performance and theatre in the province and beyond. He performed in Labrador City, Stephenville, Ferryland, St. John's and Montreal, according to his obituary, and featured in several iconic Newfoundland and Labrador productions such as Random Passage, Republic of Doyle and The Grand Seduction.

Lewis died at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's on Thursday. He was 81.

Actor Mark Critch called Lewis a "mentor, hero and pal" in a tribute on social media. He said Lewis, who taught drama at Holy Heart of Mary High School in St. John's, played a big part in getting him into performing.

"My mom went off to parent-teachers night and said, 'My son Mark did a play at St. Teresa's. He'd be interested in doing theatre arts here'… And he spun mom around in the room and said, 'Madam, I'm going to make your son a star,'" Critch told CBC Radio with a laugh.

"For me, he was the cool teacher. The guy who came in and, you know, turned you on to Leonard Cohen in class.… I was drawn to him. He got my first gig, and I was like Robin to his Batman for many a year. There was a pilot light burning in me, and he just poured gasoline on it."

Actors Mark Critch, left, and Clar Doyle were close friends with Lewis, and say they'll remember him for his wit, compassion and ability to connect with people.
Actors Mark Critch, left, and Clar Doyle were close friends with Lewis, and say they'll remember him for his wit, compassion and ability to connect with people.

Actors Mark Critch, left, and Clar Doyle were close friends with Lewis. They say they'll remember him for his wit, compassion and ability to connect with people. (CBC)

Performer Clar Doyle met Lewis in high school at St. Bon's in St. John's. He fondly remembers their first encounter.

"There was a skating rink, hockey rink out behind the school at the time called the Forum. And that shagger knocked out my front teeth. And he never apologized. I brought it up to him as recently as a month ago. He never apologized," he said.

Doyle said a great friendship followed, one that often left him with ribs sore from laughing.

Lewis was predeceased by his wife, Peggy, and their sons, Kevin and Chad. All three died from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable disease that causes the lungs to lose elasticity. He spent the latter part of his life advocating for organ donation, as a lung transplant is the only option for survival for people who have the disease.

Critch says the memory of an instance when Lewis briefly left the hospital where Peggy was to watch a performance of his will stick with him for the rest of his life.

"If you were in his life, I mean, he was your No. 1 cheerleader," he said.

Doyle recalled Lewis's performance in Equus, a play in which he stole the show as Nugget — the play's lead horse.

"He'd be off in a corner somewhere, getting inside that character. And if the show ran for seven days, he did it for seven days," he said.

"He became the most wonderful, dancing, chopping horse that you can imagine."

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