Shock waves rippled through Lower Mainland theatre circles this week as friends and former associates learned of the death of Mike Kennedy last Saturday.
The White Rock-raised performer and stage construction crewman – and in the memory of many of us, the heartiest party-er of them all – passed away at VGH at age 50, after a more than two-year battle with cancer.
According to acclaimed actor and director Dean Paul Gibson, who knew him since they were both attended Peace Arch Elementary together, Kennedy died surrounded by the support of a small group of friends who had been there as principal caregivers since he was first diagnosed.
He was pre-deceased by his father, Scott, and his mother, Carol, a long-time White Rock Players Club member, and, latterly, one of the directors of the club’s annual pantomime.
A big, gentle bear of a man, The Moose, or Moosie – as he was known to most – was renowned for his hugs; his open, smiling wonderment as he pondered the infinite possibilities of some form of mischief or mayhem (“nothing was by halves with Michael,” Gibson recalled); and a one-of-a-kind, knee-slapping, cackle of a laugh.
As Facebook exchanges recalled this week, he was also legendary for “face-balancing” objects at parties and after-show entertainments – the larger, the better – including chairs and tables, ladders and even, in one memorable instance, a large grey plastic statue of a woman that for many years adorned the backstage of the White Rock (now Coast Capital) Playhouse.
Friends recall that Kennedy, growing up in theatre circles, took a determinedly happy-go-lucky approach to real-life responsibilities, working principally on such construction crewing jobs as building the tent theatre and sets for each year’s Bard On The Beach festival at Jericho Beach.
“He described himself to me as being a ‘free-range kid’ and that’s what he always was,” said actor-writer Mike Roberds, who worked with Kennedy as a co-performer in such stage and video comedy projects as Almost Midnight and Big Helen’s Pagan Holiday.
“He was a live-action cartoon in many ways. A lot of people talk about his hugs. It sounds so hippy-ish, but that’s the way he was.”
“He was just a lovely, lovely, heavy boy,” said Vancouver casting director Andrea Brown, who fondly recalls “fun times” appearing with Kennedy in Almost Midnight, and being cast as his daughter in a White Rock panto.
Gibson – who estimates he had known Kennedy 43 years, since he and his own family emigrated from Scotland and settled in South Surrey – remembered him as an extrovert who also had a very private side.
He said he visited with his friend the day before he died.
“The nurse said ‘are you family?’ and I said, ‘no, just an old pal.’ Mike heard and said ‘yes, he’s my oldest pal.’
“He was the kind of guy that made everybody feel comfortable. It was an extraordinary gift. He was very charismatic, and for all his foibles and issues, he was also very dependable.”
Gibson said their paths crossed many times over the course of elementary and high school, as co-stars of the first X-Empt Theatre Production in White Rock in the early ’80s, Slab Boys, and later in the professional theatre world.
“He was instrumental in bringing a lot of his good pals with him into Bard,” he added, recalling Kennedy each year “moving heaven and earth to get the theatre built.”
“When we’d move (to the stage) from the rehearsal hall I’d see him across the grass, yelling ‘give ‘er!’ to us. He’d have on a hard hat and glasses over his long hair – he’d often be shirtless – and he’d be smiling with that beautiful gap in his teeth.”