Beloved Vancouver-based actor and singer Denis Simpson died suddenly today, two weeks shy of his 60th birthday. According to Bill Millerd, artistic managing director of the Arts Club Theatre Company, Simpson suffered a brain hemorrhage and passed away this morning surrounded by family in Toronto, where he was about to start rehearsals for A Year With Frog and Toad with the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People.
The original bass singer of the a cappella group the Nylons, Simpson was a long-time host of the children’s television series Polka Dot Door, later hosting a cooking show on Channel M and appearing as the Live Eye Guy for City TV.
He received a Jessie Award for his 1996 one-man show Denis Anyone? and directed the critically acclaimed 2009 Fringe show NGGRFG starring Berend McKenzie. Simpson was active in charitable work, in particular with HIV/AIDS organizations. His most recent Vancouver performance was this past May to July with the Arts Club Theatre in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story.
“He first performed for us in Ain’t Misbehavin’ in the late 1980s at the Revue Stage, and he was just electric,” Millerd recalled. “He would just take the audience into his embrace. Really, that was his personality. He embraced people and was one of those just very open, honest, performers....He was just one of those dynamic forces that suddenly are gone.”
Millerd added: “You know how people always say 'Have a nice day'? He’s the kind of person that would say it and mean it. He would look at you with his eyes and he had a big smile and you felt good. You just felt better for knowing him as a person. There was nothing dishonest about him....He just had a tremendous amount of grace.”
Millerd said the Arts Club is waiting for guidance from Simpson’s family and close friends before organizing a memorial.