Canadian actor, writer and former Xtra columnist Greg Kramer was found dead in his Montreal apartment on April 8 after he failed to show up for the first day of rehearsals for his new play, Sherlock Holmes, at Montreal’s Segal Centre for Performing Arts.
The widely revered Kramer performed on stages across Canada, from the historic Vancouver Playhouse to the venerable Centaur Theatre in Old Montreal.
The 32-year theatre veteran immigrated to Canada from Britain in 1981 “because of Maggie Thatcher,” Kramer told Xtra when he co-starred in the 2011 production of Lionel Bart’s Tony-winning musical Oliver! at the National Arts Centre.
Over the next quarter-century Kramer would live in Montreal and Toronto while earning raves playing the title role in Richard III at Vancouver’s Firehall Theatre in 1984, Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew at the Ottawa Shakespeare Festival a decade later, and making headlines as the devil-dog in Peter Hinton’s otherwise all-female production of The Witch of Edmonton at Toronto’s Harbourfront in 1993.
But Kramer said working with Christopher Plummer on The Tempest at Stratford in 2010 ranked up there as one of his favourite jobs. “Plummer is incredible – an unbelievable professional,” Kramer said. “Given his age and how well he has kept himself, he is an inspiration.”
Many young actors also looked to Kramer for inspiration: he wrote three novels as well as a collection of short stories, called Hogtown Bonbons, culled from a biweekly fiction column he wrote for Xtra; he wrote several plays, including the Segal’s upcoming Sherlock Holmes; he voiced characters in cartoons like Arthur; and appeared regularly on such TV shows as Forever Knight, John Woo’s Once a Thief and Tales from the Neverending Story. He won a Best Director MECCA award (Montreal English Critics Circle Awards) for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Segal in 2008,
and he acted in Todd Haynes’s Montreal-shot 2007 Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There. That film boasted an incredible cast, including Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Julianne Moore.
“There was so much respect and good feelings on the set [because] we were doing [that film] for the art and not for the money,” he said.
Kramer did not believe being out slowed his career. “Had I wanted to be a [career] film or TV actor, I might have thought more carefully about being openly gay,” he said. “Maybe if more high-level actors came out it would help. I have never compromised myself, and I still worked on three TV series and a handful of good films. But if you want to work in the commercial end of the entertainment industry and be openly gay, you’ll need to be pretty darn strong and proud.”
Kramer was also a magician (he once had a skin graft on his forearm because of a fire-throwing trick that went awry) and was last seen on a Montreal stage acting as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood last December. He was also in the midst of recording voices on a new video game at Ubisoft.
He based Sherlock Holmes – due to open at the Segal Centre on May 5 and starring Jay Baruchel as Holmes and Kramer as Inspector Lestrade – on the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
While Montreal police have ruled out foul play in Kramer’s death, it is still unclear how he died. What is known, however, is that Kramer – who was 51 – had survived two bouts of cancer, had a lung removed and had lived with HIV for years.
“We mourn the passing of our dear friend and colleague, Greg Kramer,” Segal Centre artistic producer Paul Flicker said in a statement. “We cherish the time we spent with Greg, an inspired and talented actor, director, writer, musician and magician. Greg devoted his life to his art. We honour his memory and legacy by continuing on with his final gift to the world, his Sherlock Holmes.”
Kramer – happiest when he was on a stage – told Xtra he never needed Hollywood to make his dreams come true. “You can still make money in theatre,” he said. “You can. Just obviously not quite so much.”