August 16, 2013 12:04 pm
Updated: August 16, 2013 1:00 pm

Canadian actor August Schellenberg dies at 77

August Schellenberg, pictured in 2007.

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TORONTO — Canadian actor August Schellenberg died Thursday evening after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 77.

The Free Willy star was surrounded by loved ones when he passed away at his home in Dallas, where he has lived since the mid-90s.

Schellenberg was born in Montreal to Métis and Swiss-German parents and studied at the city’s National Theatre School (NTS).

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“A role model for so many of NTS grads and students,” tweeted the school’s director Simon Brault. “A fascinating life, a stellar trajectory. A great loss.”

After moving to Toronto, he made his film debut in 1971’s made-in-Toronto Rip-Off and went on to have roles in dozens of films and TV shows including The Littlest Hobo, Due South and The Road to Avonlea.

South of the border, he appeared on shows like Walker, Texas Ranger and Grey’s Anatomy and in the movie The New World starring Colin Farrell. He was perhaps best known for playing Randolph Johnson in 1993’s Free Willy and two sequels.

Schellenberg earned an Emmy nomination for playing Sitting Bull in the 2007 TV movie Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. He won a Gemini Award for 1983’s The Prodigal and a Genie Award for Black Robe in 1991.

He performed on stages from coast to coast — at the Charlottetown Festival; the Neptune Theatre in Halifax; the Centaur, Saidye Bronfman and Theatre Lennoxville in Quebec; the St. Lawrence Centre, Young People’s Theatre and Theatre Plus in Toronto; Rainbow Stage in Winnipeg; Theatre Calgary; the Vancouver Playhouse; and the Bastion Theatre in Victoria.

Schellenberg also appeared in Ontario’s Shaw and Stratford festivals as well as in theatre productions in Dallas and New York. Last year, at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, he played the title role in an aboriginal production of King Lear. The theatre lowered its flag Friday to honour Schellenberg.

In an eerie coincidence, his last project before his death was a role in the 2012 Canadian drama The Last Movie.

The film’s director Bruce Pittman was a friend of Schellenberg for more than three decades.

“He was one of the finest actors that Canada had,” Pittman told Global News. “He was just a great person. A good and loyal friend and an outgoing, warm human being.”

The filmmaker said he last spoke with Schellenberg in January and the actor seemed to be in good spirits.

“I knew he was quite ill but he kept it to himself,” recalled Pittman.

Actor Eddie Spears tweeted: “It was a great honor working with August Schellenberg on Dreamkeeper. He will be missed.”

According to his website, Schellenberg was a passionate chef and a champion diver and boxer.

Schellenberg is survived by his wife, actress Joan Karasevich, and three daughters.

© 2013 Shaw Media

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