Like coffee or whisky, Trailer Park Boys is an acquired taste. It takes an episode or two for one to wrap their head around what’s going on, but it didn’t take long to ask “Who is that guy who plays Mr. Lahey?”
Trailer Park Boys creator Mike Clattenburg once told John Dunsworth that he’d be unable to go anywhere in North America without being recognized, and he kept his word.
Though I’d heard of TPB, I hadn’t seen the hit Canadian program until I moved north of the border in 2006. By the time my then girlfriend and I took a flight to Nova Scotia to visit family six months later, I was thumbing through a book devoted to the Showcase smash with tears in my eyes at the pages devoted to nothing more than Lahey’s shit-isms over the years.
John Dunsworth was one of the funniest people who has ever walked the planet. His trailer park supervisor was not only a joy, but an absolute treasure. And yesterday, we suddenly lost him at the age of 71.
And I’m not going to lie, this one hurts.
I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Mr. Dunsworth a few years back for a movie program I hosted for a local television station. I was still writing for a baseball website when I’d first scored his number, but when I’d reached out with the slimmest of hopes that he was a Blue Jays fan and I could someone get a couple of baseball questions in, I wasn’t surprised to learn that he wasn’t.
For more than a year his cell sat in my phone unused, but as luck would have it, I finally had a venue it would work for.
I’d just decided to start conducting interview segments for the show and was still riding the high of speaking with Kane Hodder for the Halloween episode, so when it came time to think of someone to feature for the Thanksgiving show, Mr. Lahey seemed the perfect choice.
When I contacted him to see if he’d be interested and available, he did not hesitate to confirm that he was not only able, but that we needn’t worry about setting up a date or time, that I could phone him “at my leisure.”
Before any call to a celebrity I feel butterflies, but I was legitimately nervous before dialing Mr. Dunsworth. Not only was he a brilliant actor, but a brilliant man. Very well read and highly intelligent, with a quick wit who was hilariously funny. I worried that I was out of my league and wouldn’t be able to hold my own.
Mr. Dunsworth put that concern to bed immediately. The first thing he shared when he answered was that they had Ricky’s (Robb Wells) car in the garage and “We’re fixin’ up the Shitmobile.” I smiled, immediately relaxed, and it set off a Q&A that was more conversational than formal.
The wonder was that Mr. Dunsworth was not a drinker, yet he portrayed the most convincing, fall-down alcoholic this side of Dudley Moore. He even agreed to throw an in-character promo our way to hype the show, “drunkenly” informing viewers to turn in for the pre-turkey shenanigans by saying “Listen up, I’m not fuckin’ around here. You’re gonna wanna tune in, because…(turning away from the phone) What’s that, Randy? (Coming back) Yeah, you’re right. Randy (Pat Roach) says, you gotta super size it.”
The man was gentle and polite and generous, on top of being fantastically talented and politically active throughout Canada. He was an integral part of the theatre and film industry in his native Nova Scotia, and took time to speak with schools throughout the Great White North to speak with prospective actors, once sharing that potential thespians and writers should not be concerned with “the flavor of the month, but ask (themselves), what do you want to say?”
It was advice that spoke to me, and I carried that through to my baseball writing, the feature pieces I did for the local newspaper, and to every site I’ve penned for since. I’ve never forgotten it, and it remains with me even as I write this.
Make no mistake, the writer I am today, however good or bad, was fashioned in no small part by Mr. Dunsworth.
In fact, that I no longer fretted over what I thought I should say but wrote what was in my heart, I felt a joy and peace with writing that I hadn’t in years. I emailed Mr. Dunsworth thanking him for a little nugget he’d dropped years ago to a room full of students of which I was not even a part, I’d simply seen the presentation.
Always classy, Mr. Dunsworth simply responded, “I rarely receive such a sentiment. Thank you for sharing that with me.”
Though I hadn’t reached out or spoken with him in years, when a friend of mine texted last night saying “Did you hear about John Dunsworth? I quickly shot back “What?!”, but I felt as though I’d been punched in the gullet because I already knew.
As I Googled Mr. Dunsworth’s name, all that kept coming out of my mouth was “No, no, no, no, no.”
Others that I’d had the good fortune to interview over the years have passed. Baseball legends such as Buck O’Neil and Bobby Thomson, but while I was saddened at their departures, they didn’t carry the rattling impact of Mr. Dunsworth’s passing.
Perhaps it was our conversation, or the handful of emails we’d exchanged. Maybe it was the lines friends and I could just throw at one another at random times that left us howling in laughter, or just that I adored Trailer Park Boys and Mr. Dunsworth’s performances so much. Whatever it was, I knew in that moment, that I’d miss him forever.
Thanks for the endless laughs and smiles, the kindness and generosity. And our discussion that was nothing more than a brief moment in time, but will stay with me forever. My next drinky-poo will be hoisted in your honor, bud.
Thank you for being John Dunsworth.