Dunsworth remembered as hard-working mentor on 'Trailer Park Boys' set
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, October 17, 2017 6:40PM EDT
TORONTO -- As foul-mouthed alcoholic supervisor Jim Lahey on the comically crass mockumentary series "Trailer Park Boys," John Dunsworth was a slurring, stumbling mess with a drink in hand and a bitter attitude.
Behind the scenes, he couldn't have been more different, say those who knew him.
Word of the beloved Halifax actor's death Monday night prompted a flood of celebrity tributes that painted a picture of a vibrant, intelligent actor who devoted himself to the craft, served as a mentor and lived an alcohol-free lifestyle.
"For a guy who doesn't drink a drop, he was the most affable drunk in the country," Lucy DeCoutere, who co-starred with Dunsworth on the "Trailer Park Boys," said Tuesday in a phone interview from Italy.
"He wasn't a drinker but I guess because he could embody the inhibitions that come from being intoxicated, he was able to add the nuance and subtlety that comes from being a raging booze hound."
Dunsworth died "peacefully after a short and unexpected illness," according to a Twitter post by his daughter Sarah, who was also on "Trailer Park Boys." He was 71.
"It's devastating," Toronto-based actor Bernard Robichaud, who played gun-toting bully Cyrus on "Trailer Park Boys," said in a phone interview.
"It was kind of sudden. John was so full of life and vim and vigour for a man of his age. I just assumed that he would be around forever.... It's shocking because there's a lot of us that felt like his extended family."
Many stars took to social media to express condolences, including members of the "Trailer Park Boys," late-night talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel, Canadian rockers Rush and actor Tom Arnold.
Mr. Lahey was Sunnyvale's long-serving trailer park supervisor who was fired from the police force after a Halloween prank pulled by delinquents Ricky and Julian.
He often fell to the ground in drunken states and Dunsworth had a "super kinetic" energy in portraying that physicality, said DeCoutere, noting the part was written specifically for him.
"Not only was he spectacular in the physical stuff, he looked for it," she said.
"I can't count the number of times I saw John Dunsworth in his underwear in a housecoat flat on his back in the dirt of a trailer park."
Mr. Lahey's relationship with shirtless assistant supervisor Randy (played by Patrick Roach) was groundbreaking, she added.
"He was the first gay hero on TV -- with his relationship with Randy -- in Canadian television," she said. "They were the first gay couple on Canadian TV."
Born in Bridgewater, N.S., Dunsworth had a slew of film and TV credits, including a recent role as reporter Dave Teagues on the series "Haven."
He was also a stage star, ran a Halifax theatre company and was a casting director. His honours included a Gemini and an ACTRA award.
Robichaud said Dunsworth was his drama teacher at Dalhousie University in Halifax and taught him "to just be real" in his acting.
"He didn't have any problems calling you out in the classroom saying 'That's just BS' but at the same time helping you see the error so that you could correct it and make the character come alive," he said.
"Even on the set of 'Trailer Park Boys,' he was always very giving of himself to the cast and the crew."
Though he didn't drink, Dunsworth was open about once having an addiction to video lottery terminals, which prompted him to advocate for removing them from bars in Nova Scotia. He was also an activist for causes, including a proposed cut to a film tax credit he opposed and a deep-sea trawling ban.
"He was a guy who, if he saw people in trouble, he had a compassionate way of helping them maybe navigate through," said DeCoutere.
She said Dunsworth had a playful quality, could be cheeky and mischievous, and often seemed like a "much younger person."
At the same time, he didn't have room for shenanigans that weren't productive, she said, noting he didn't enjoy gossip, complaining or negativity.
"He also definitely was the most positive guy around, the hardest-working guy and the person whom I think all of us had such huge respect for. So in a weird way he also had this paternal role on set, even though he was the biggest child."
DeCoutere said she was in awe of his intellect, noting he was often doing crosswords and "was a guy of great philosophical depth."
Robichaud called him "brilliant" with a vast vocabulary that rivalled literary greats.
Dunsworth inspired many actors, including DeCoutere.
"He was so invested, told everyone that they should act as much as possible all the time, even if it wasn't necessarily a project about which they were super fired up, to continuously be immersed," said DeCoutere.
"And he practised what he preached and did everything. He was involved with as many productions as a human can be. I think it's interesting that 'Trailer Park Boys' was the thing that put him on the map because it didn't necessarily showcase how ... he could also do the more nuanced stuff."