Monday, March 28, 2011
Roger Abbott: 1946 - 2011
I was on an Air Canada flight bound for Los Angeles Sunday morning and unaware until I landed of "the saddest news" being sent via email from Don Ferguson. Roger Abbott was dead.
Roger's passing hit me a lot harder than any other obit I've ever reported. I had the great good fortune to get to know Roger, Don and Luba Goy over the years, dating back to a cover story I did for TV Guide in the '90s. When my son discovered the Farce, we'd attend a taping or two a year at the CBC Broadcast centre. Faced with a bring-your son-to-work-day as a freelancer, a quick call to Roger got us both ring side seats to an Air Farce table read.
I had lunch with the two Air Farce producers and performers--close friends since meeting in high school in Montreal--not two months ago. That meeting was supposed to be all business, but it felt like a family gathering. In other words, I can almost hear Abbott mischievously interject, it was edgy and uncomfortable.
Abbott was a comedian's comedian, a real student and master of his craft. He was a joy to watch perform, especially in live tapings of The Royal Canadian Air Farce. Roger was the ringmaster at those New Year's Eve tapings, directing the studio audience in the bleachers to the next sketch set up. He'd suddenly disappear, get all rouged up and wigged out and show up a sketch or two later as Don Newman or The Pope or a guy in a doughnut shop.
In between, he had such respect and affection for the audience you felt like a whole bunch of people were going to a whole lot of trouble just for you. The respect was paid back a million fold in the ratings throughout the remarkably long run of the series, both on radio and television.
I used to love it when Abbott dropped a Wally Ballou reference; I'm not sure that too many others who would get the shout out to the character featured in Bob & Ray's radio shows of the '50s and early '60s. Roger knew I knew and that made it okay. Abbott always made you feel included, whether you were listening from Deer Lake, Nfld., watching from Red Deer, Alta., or sitting next to him at the Four Seasons in Toronto.
I'll have more on Abbott's passing in a column due Monday on The Canadian Press news wire. Suffice to say that he was one of the nicest people, in or out of show business, that I've ever met, a real mensch who was kind, generous and as good as his word. Condolences to his family at home, his family at work as well as his family of admirers right across Canada.