Richard Monette, the Canadian legiter who led the Stratford Shakespeare Festival through 14 seasons, died Tuesday night of a pulmonary embolism at a hospital in London, Ontario. He was 64.
The Montreal-born Monette first appeared at Stratford in 1965 as an actor in a variety of small parts, later becoming one of the festival’s leading performers in roles like Hamlet.
He parted company with Stratford in 1980 when he shouted out “You pig!” to then-board president Robert Hicks at a meeting where Hicks was trying to explain why a four-person Canadian artistic directorate had been fired to make way for John Dexter. That appointment never saw the light of day.
Artistic director John Neville lured Monette back to the fest in 1987, after a hiatus during which he had scored one of the greatest triumphs of his career, playing the title role of the Cleopatra-obsessed drag queen in the English version of Michel Tremblay’s “Hosanna.”
Monette proved a versatile and crowd-pleasing director, especially of Shakespearean comedy. When the theater was near insolvency in 1993, the board he once reviled begged him to step in and save them.
The following 14 years brought Stratford unprecedented prosperity, even though many critics felt Monette had let the artistic side suffer in favor of commercial success.
Des McAnuff, who succeeded Monette this season, said he was “deeply distressed” by Monette’s death.
“He was a brilliant actor, a gifted director, an inspiring artistic director and a great Canadian,” McAnuff said.
Monette’s survivors include a brother, Mark. A memorial service at Stratford will be announced at a later date.