Jonathan Crombie, Anne of Green Gables actor, dead at 48
Actor best known for playing Gilbert Blythe in TV movies, also played lead in Drowsy Chaperon in 2008
April 18, 2015
Jonathan Crombie, who played Gilbert Blythe in the Anne of Green Gables movies, has died at the age of 48, CBC News has learned.
He was also the son of David Crombie, who was mayor of Toronto from 1972 to 1978 and served as a federal Progressive Conservative cabinet minister in the 1980s.
The actor's sister, Carrie Crombie, told CBC News on Saturday that her brother suffered a brain hemorrhage and died in New York City on April 15.
"We've been going through lots of stories the last couple days," she said.
"He was funny, he was sweet, he loved acting, he loved comedy and singing and dancing. As a little kid, he just loved Broadway shows and all of that kind of stuff and would sing and dance in the living room."
Answered to the name Gil
Jonathan Crombie will be best remembered for his role in the CBC TV movie Anne of Green Gables in 1984 and its two sequels in 1987 and 2000.
Carrie Crombie said her brother never shied away from the fame that came along with playing the role of Gilbert Blythe, and happily answered to the name Gil when recognized by fans on the street.
"I think he was really proud of being Gilbert Blythe and was happy to answer any questions...he really enjoyed that series and was happy, very proud of it — we all were," she said.
"[But] I think his proudest part was when he played the lead in Drowsy Chaperone on Broadway. That was just an amazing thing for him to be able to do."
Anne of Green Gables producer Kevin Sullivan said dozens of actors, including Jason Priestley, tried out for the role of Gilbert Blythe but none captured the spirit of the character.
Casting director Diane Polley eventually discovered the then-17-year-old Crombie while he was acting in a high school play. Polley is also the mother of Sarah Polley, who portrayed the main character in the Road to Avonlea series.
"She said, 'Trust me. He's it," Sullivan said. "We never screen-tested him. We met him and he was cast. It was a perfect storm...It just all worked perfectly."
'A devastating tragedy'
Sullivan said Crombie and the on-screen character he came to embody were actually pretty similar.
"I think for legions of young women around the world who fell in love with the Anne of Green Gables films, Jonathan literally represented the quintessential boy next door, and there were literally thousands of women who wrote to him over the years who saw him as a perfect mate," Sullivan said.
"I think there will be hundreds of people who will be floored that this has happened. It's such a devastating tragedy. In reality, Jonathan was as generous, as kind, as sensitive and as ambitious, in some ways, as the character he came to be identified with."
Sullivan said Crombie and Megan Follows, the actress who played Anne Shirley in the movies, had a special relationship off screen.
"Megan was more of a seasoned professional, in some ways, than Jonathan was," he said.
"He was kind of a newbie and I just remember that they were able to ground each other extremely well and the relationship that they had was one of great affection...they were both very generous with each other and both really made those performances vivid and real."
Jonathan Crombie also performed with a sketch comedy troupe featured in the Canadian TV series Comedy Now! in 1998. Carrie Crombie said her brother was incredibly passionate about improv and sketch comedy.
"John was funny. He was kinda quirky in some ways," she said.
"Like he would only take the bus back and forth from Toronto to New York. And, to be honest, that's how we are going to be bringing him back. We felt that it was an ode to Jonathan. He would never go on a plane, so we're going to make the trek from New York to Toronto on a bus with his ashes."
Crombie said her brother just didn't feel it necessary to spend the money required to make the journey by plane.
"He always seemed to attract interesting people on buses. He always had great stories about characters on buses, so we always had fun listening to his impersonations."
Carrie Crombie said she didn't think her brother had any major health issues, and was committed to staying healthy. She said his organs have been donated, which is something he would have been proud of.
She said a "huge, wonderful celebration of life" will be held in his honor sometime in the coming weeks.
CROMBIE, Jonathan (Jonathan David Crombie)
Born: 10/12/1966, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Died: 4/15/2015, New York City, New York, U.S.A.
Jonathan Crombie’s western – actor:
The Campbells (TV) - 1985-1988 (Kevin Sims)