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Paul Quarrington, novelist, screenwriter, and musician, in March of 2008. (Peter Power)
Paul Quarrington, novelist, screenwriter, and musician, in March of 2008. (Peter Power)

Writer Paul Quarrington dies of cancer Add to ...

Paul Quarrington, 56, a beloved Canadian writer, musician and screenwriter, passed away early this morning after a heroic battle with lung cancer.

A statement posted to his official website said: "Paul Quarrington's brave battle with cancer is over. He passed peacefully at home in Toronto in the early hours this morning surrounded by friends and family. It is comforting to know that he didn't suffer; he was calm and quiet holding hands with those who were closest to him. The past few days saw a rapid decline in his ability to breathe."

Quarrington was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in the spring, but managed to keep working on a range of projects that reflected his diverse artistic interests and talents - a new solo album of his own songs, another album with his band, the Pork Belly Futures, a new screenplay, a new novel, as well as a memoir, Cigar Box Banjo . He also continued to perform, at times even while hooked up to an oxygen machine, toured Labrador, chronicled his illness in a series of newspaper articles and worked on a documentary film inspired by the memoir Life in Music .

In the last several months, Quarrington had managed to maintain a pace that would have exhausted a healthy man - demonstrating a prodigious work ethic that belied his familiar persona as a rumpled, slightly undisciplined laggard.

"I've never seen anybody keep going like he did," said Rob Sanders, publisher of Greystone Books, Quarrington's non-fiction publisher. It was endless. He had the creative passion of a comet."

Sanders said the writer finished final revisions for the memoir, to be published in May, on the weekend.

He said Quarrington in recent days was finding it increasingly hard to breathe. He cancelled one scheduled public appearance this week. Although additional oxygen tubes were brought in, they were unavailing.

"Paul was a remarkable person," said his long-time friend, music publisher Michael Burke. "He was able to see the bright or humorous side of almost everything. When I saw him in August, he said he was making two lists. One was of all the people he admired who lived shorter lives than he did, and the other was of all the people he detested who lived longer lives than he would."

Anne Collins, his fiction editor at Random House, said "Paul derived immediate gratification from his music, and income from his work for film and TV, but novels were like an itch he had to scratch. Although I think of him as one of our most accomplished writers, one who left a deep imprint on our national psyche, I don't think he could have raised a family on the proceeds of his novels alone."

In an official statement, Collins said: "Paul Quarrington brought humour, grace, energy and joy to the dark business of dying, in the same way he brought those qualities to his remarkable fiction. He was one of our funniest writers and surreptitiously one of our most profound. I hate the fact that he has died, but I am so glad he did it in the company of the people he loved best. I am so sorry for their loss, and deeply sorry that Paul won't be able to sing us more songs or tell us more stories, both things he loved so much to do."

He had been mulling over various ideas for a new novel only recently, Collins said. "I saw him at the Writers' Trust dinner in November and he looked good. He'd had a heart attack in Calgary the week before, but there he was, in a tuxedo. And he said, "I don't think it's going to be a novel. Maybe a short story."

Collins said editing Quarrington was mainly a process of "striking the right balance between the humour and lightness that came so naturally to him and the darker stuff that was always roiling around underneath."

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