Kenneth Welsh, a prolific Canadian character actor with more than 200 screen credits, died Thursday evening. He was 80 years old.
ACTRA, the Canadian film and television union, confirmed the news on Friday. “Ken was one of Canada’s all-time great performers, with hundreds of memorable roles spanning decades,” ACTRA wrote in a statement. “He will be greatly missed. Our condolences to his loved ones.”
ACTRA Toronto is extremely saddened today by the passing of Kenneth Welsh. Ken was one of Canada’s all-time great performers, with hundreds of memorable roles spanning decades. He will be greatly missed. Our condolences to his loved ones. pic.twitter.com/SqcV3Wmhqk
— ACTRA Toronto (@ACTRAToronto) May 6, 2022
Welsh is best known to American audiences for his role as Windom Earle, the crazed FBI agent in Season 2 of the groundbreaking television series “Twin Peaks.”
In his native Canada, he was a consistent figure on television, frequently starring in TV films. He portrayed several historical figures on the screen, with some of his roles including Harry S. Truman, Thomas E. Dewey, Colin Thatcher, Thomas Edison, James “Scotty” Reston and General Harry Crerar.
Born in 1942 in Edmonton, Alta., Welsh studied at the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal. He then spent the first years of his career as a performer at the world-renowned Stratford Festival, which is recognized for its performances of Shakespeare plays. In 2006, he would play himself in an episode of “Slings & Arrows,” an acclaimed comedy series set in a fictional theater company modeled after Stratford.
Welsh’s first screen credit was as a performer in “Shoestring Theatre,” a 1963 CBC anthology series that saw a group of actors perform minimalist, experimental productions of plays. He made a few more television appearances in the ’60s, including television movie versions of “Henry V” (where he played Grey) and “The Three Musketeers” (where he played the central role of D’Artagnan).
Over the course of the ’70s and ’80s, Welsh worked primarily in his native Canada. He had notable roles in television films such as “Hedda Gabler,” “Brethren,” “Reno and the Doc,” “Love & Larceny,” “The Cuckoo Bird,” “Murder Sees the Light,” “Loose Ends,” “A Stranger Waits” and “Love and Hate.” He also had guest roles on shows such as “For the Record ,” “Seeing Things” and “Spenser: For Hire.” In 1988, he played a supporting role in “Crocodile Dundee II” and starred in an episode of the then-ongoing “Twilight Zone” revival.
Welsh was cast as Windom Earle, one of the central villains on “Twin Peaks” Season 2, in 1990. The former partner and mentor of main character special agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), Earle went insane and murdered his wife. After escaping captivity, he traveled to the titular town of Twin Peaks in hopes of unleashing the power of the supernatural Black Lodge. Welsh cut a menacing presence as Earle, who was memorable for his cruel nature and obsession with chess. The actor starred in 10 episodes of the show and was a central figure in the show’s famously ambiguous finale.
After “Twin Peaks,” Welsh started working more in America, though he continued to make frequent appearances in Canadian productions. Notable television shows he guest starred in include “The X-Files,” “Law & Order,” “The Outer Limits,” “Soul Food,” “The Practice,” “Due South,” “Smallville,” “Stargate Atlantis,” “Human Target,” “The Expanse” and “Star Trek: Discovery.”
In 2018, Welsh took on a notable recurring role in “Lodge 49,” where he played Larry Loomis, the leader of the titular fraternal order. He also continued starring in television films, which included playing American president Harry S. Truman in two separate productions: “Hiroshima” in 1995 and “Haven” in 2001. From 2000 to 2002, Welsh played Dr. Watson opposite Matt Frewer as Sherlock Holmes in four television movies for the Hallmark Channel.
Theatrical films Welsh had supporting roles in include “Timecop,” “Legends of the Fall” and “Focus.” In 2004, he played Dr. Hepburn, the father to Cate Blanchett’s Katharine Hepburn, in Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator.” The same year, he also played the incompetent United States Vice President Raymond Becker in the Roland Emmerich disaster film “The Day After Tomorrow.” At the time of the film’s release, there was some criticism regarding how Welsh resembled then Vice President Dick Cheney, which Emmerich admitted was intentional. Other notable films Welsh had roles in include “The Fog,” “The Covenant” and “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.”
At time of death, Welsh had several projects in post-production. He was set to make a guest appearance in the Prime Video revival of Canadian sketch comedy series “The Kids in the Hall,” which will release later this month. Other upcoming roles include appearances in films such as “Campton Manor,” “Midnight at the Paradise,” “Deadly Draw” and “Afterwards.”
Welsh is survived by his son, Devon Welsh, a singer-songwriter.