Top Beachcomber dies at 67

JIM SLOTEK -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 4:01 PM ET

For fans of CBC's The Beachcombers there was only one way the show could ever really be cancelled.

And yesterday it was.

Actor Bruno Gerussi is dead of an apparent heart attack. He was 67.

His son Rico, an assistant director on CBC's Side Effects, said his father died at the Vancouver home of his longtime companion, former judge Nancy Morrison.

Although in good health for most of his life, Gerussi had suffered a mild heart attack three weeks ago and admitted himself to hospital. "It was so mild, he thought he was suffering bronchial problems," Rico said. "They kept him in for a week for observation and then they released him. He kind of considered it a wakeup call. He'd stopped smoking, although he cheated a bit."

For 18 years, Gerussi was best-known to Canadians as The Beachcombers' gruff Nick Adonidas, fulltime log salvager on the B.C. shoreline, and ringleader of a coterie of earthy characters - Relic, Jesse, Molly et al - that more than a million Canadians adopted as friends.

The show was cancelled amid controversy five years ago, after a first-time schedule change saw its audience drop off sharply in only one season. An angry Gerussi said at the time that moving the show from its regular Sunday slot with little publicity was "very much like sending your kid to the corner store for a quart of milk and while he's gone you move out of the house."

"They haven't replaced it with anything of substance, just with trashy American stuff," Gerussi said in 1991 after the series ended.

Gruff and expansive like his character, Gerussi was "edgy, and at the same time he was capable of acts of great kindness that he didn't want you to know about," says CBC spokesperson David McCaughna, who was The Beachcombers publicist for seven years.

"He was one of those people who loved life so much, you thought he would be around forever. He had a beautiful house in Gibsons with a 360-degree view, he had wonderful art, a big garden. His hobby was wood sculpture. He loved his world."

Rico said his father was "semi-retired" since The Beachcombers' cancellation. "He'd do (small roles) for American movies that were shooting in B.C. He did a television pilot called Atomic Tommy last year. He did a play, a comedy called Breaking Legs in Vancouver last year. And he was a great golfer."

Born in Medicine Hat, Alta., Gerussi grew up in New Westminster, B.C. He attended the Banff School of Fine Arts and in 1954 joined the Stratford Festival, where he became one of its leading actors through the '50s, with his larger-than-life interpretations of Shakespearian characters.

Before The Beachcombers made him a household name in Canada, Gerussi was host of his own CBC radio show for four years, a precursor to Morningside, that focused on Gerussi's interests and slices of life. Later he also hosted the CBC's Celebrity Cooks.

Gerussi is survived by Rico, a daughter Tina (a Toronto casting director) and six grandchildren.

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