Whether spouting Shakespearean soliloquies from a soapbox in Toronto’s Kensington Market as an exercise in performance, or appearing onstage and in dozens of television roles, actor, writer and producer John Evans approached each project with an intense focus and passion for creative authenticity. To prepare for the role of Lee, a down-and-out drifter in Sam Shepard’s play True West, Mr. Evans arose in the middle of the night, put on dirty clothing and roamed sketchy areas of Toronto. His research paid off with a 1982 Dora Mavor Moore Award for best performance by a male actor in a leading role.
The stage was Mr. Evans’s preferred venue, but he held his own alongside Hollywood stars Diane Lane, Matt Dillon and Tommy Lee Jones in the 1987 feature film The Big Town. He also appeared frequently on television, with roles in the popular series Relic Hunter, La Femme Nikita, Due South, Street Legal and E.N.G., as well as Reversible Errors, a made-for-TV movie starring William H. Macy. Additionally, he became the signature voice for Alliance Atlantis’s History Television. Attracted to the rebellious, gritty work of Beat writers such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, Mr. Evans wrote a one-man show about them, called The Beat Generation. In 2014, backed by a jazz trio, he played to sold-out clubs and university venues across Canada and the United States.
But his greatest accomplishment, the one of which he was most proud, came at the end of his long, fruitful career. His play, The Standardized Patient, a satirical thriller, is currently in development in New York with the agency Don Buchwald & Associates Inc. The title refers to actors who are hired to play patients for instructional videos and medical teaching situations. Mr. Evans, who had played such roles more than once, including one as a man suffering from psychosis, was inspired by the idea of an academic who, dissatisfied with standardized patients, chooses instead to use artificial intelligence as a testing tool for psychiatrists. Mr. Evans was still adding lines to the play weeks before he died of cancer at his home in Toronto on Sept. 28. He was 76.
Matt Zimbel, percussionist and founder of the band Manteca, remembers his friend John as being “a doer, a creator” and “cool.” “When he walked into a room, people noticed. He had a way of observing. There was no artifice to him,” Mr. Zimbel said.
John Franklin Evans, the elder of two sons, was born in Toronto on March 10, 1943. His Canadian mother, Mary, and Macedonian father, Jim, ran a successful diner called the Falcon at Bay and Wellesley Streets in downtown Toronto. John and his brother, George, helped out by peeling potatoes, washing floors and serving customers.
As an adult, Mr. Evans wrote a poem about his experiences at the restaurant that included the lines: “I was born with a greasy spoon in my mouth, and frankly I couldn’t be prouder.”
Both boys attended Etobicoke Collegiate, where John caught the acting bug after being cast as male lead in the school’s production of The Boyfriend. After high school, John attended Central YMCA College, in Chicago. Disenchanted by American politics, after two years in the United States, he returned to Canada and completed a liberal arts degree at Wilfrid Laurier University, in Waterloo, Ont.
Mr. Evans’s big break came when he was hired to work on the CBC variety show The Funny Farm, which provided him with a steady income between 1974 and 1978. After a brief stint at Second City, with actors Eugene Levy and Martin Short, Mr. Evans landed leading roles in prominent theatres across Canada in shows such as Sleuth, Educating Rita and The Odd Couple.
By the mid-1980s, although Mr. Evans had achieved a certain stature, Lyne Tremblay, a French-Canadian actor and singer 14 years his junior, had no idea who he was. She did, however, admire his lean good looks and agreed to a date. At the time, Ms. Tremblay was appearing as the Siamese feline Cassandra in a Toronto production of Cats. Mr. Evans hung around the stage door after a show, summoning the courage to ask her out.
“There was great chemistry between us. After our first date we both felt, ‘My God, where have you been?' ” Ms. Tremblay said. They married in October, 1986. During their marriage, the couple collaborated on several musical projects, including Ms. Tremblay’s first album, Break ‘n’ Enter, as well as the cabarets Gauche, The Decadent Berlin Revue and Cabaret Deco, which played at the Royal Ontario Museum and the Distillery Jazz Festival. Two daughters were born into the marriage, Michelle in 1989 and Lisa in 1992. Lisa remembers her father as being a kind of mad scientist who’d leap from bed and dash for pen and paper in order to write down something that occurred to him in his sleep. The marriage dissolved amicably in 2007, evolving into a lasting friendship. “We were two different kinds of fire,” Ms. Tremblay explained. “John’s fire burned brightest when he was expressing himself through ideas and creating. That’s when he was at his best. That’s when he was happiest.”
Mr. Evans leaves his ex-wife, Ms. Tremblay; daughters, Michelle and Lisa; and brother, George, and his family.