When comedic actor Paul O'Sullivan took to the stage his colleagues would frequently try and get him to sing – not only because he had a good voice, but because he could sing a risqué love song, make it gut-wrenchingly hilarious, and get away with it because of his "innate sweetness." According to his fellow actors and admirers, the Canadian actor never knew how truly great he was.
"He was fearless and that was the thing that left most of us in awe" said fellow Canadian improv actor and close personal friend, Colin Mochrie.
Mr. O'Sullivan, a staple in Toronto's comedy community and respected actor, died Friday after his car hit a flat-bed truck parked on the shoulder of Country Road 507, approximately a hour north of Peterborough, Ont. He was 48.
Mr. O'Sullivan was known for his involvement with The Second City, and roles in The Red Green Show, Murdoch Mysteries, Dan for Mayor, and most recently Little Mosque on the Prairie. He also lent his voice to the children's animated series George Shrinks.
"He was one of those actors who, once he was involved with your project, your project was immediately at least 50 per cent better," said Mr. Mochrie, who wrote and acted with Mr. O'Sullivan numerous times over the past decade. "He was truly inspiring to watch and to work with."
Mr. Mochrie and his wife, Little Mosque on the Prairie actress Debra McGrath, said they spent their Saturday "laughing and crying" re-watching Mr. O'Sullivan in The Joe Blow Show and as the lead in CBC's Getting Along Famously.
In his role as Harry on Little Mosque on the Prairie, Mr. O'Sullivan made Ms. McGrath laugh so hard that she "peed into her shoes," Mr. Mochrie said.
Mr. O'Sullivan made it his goal to get Ms. McGrath to crack up in every take that followed and "every time, he came close!" he said.
Actress Sheila McCarthy, another Little Mosque on the Prairie cast member, said though Mr. O'Sullivan was only on set for a few days, he was "hysterically funny" and instantly loved by the rest of the cast. "He really underestimated how well he was respected and how good he was," she said.
Canadian actors and comedy professionals described Mr. O'Sullivan's humble attitude and what Second City CEO Andrew Alexander called a "fundamental decency that informed his work as both a teacher and a performer."
"I consider Paul one of those special Second City folk that brought out the best in his fellow performers" said Mr. Alexander said in an e-mail. "He was a kind, gentle, funny man, and will be missed."
Mr. O'Sullivan taught improv at Toronto's Second City, Humber College, and started a performing arts academy with his partner, actress Linda Kash, in downtown Peterborough.
His death Friday prompted the cancellation of weekend performances at Toronto's Jane Mallett theatre of Lost in Yonkers, which starred Ms. Kash and Ms. McCarthy.
"He's a wonderful performer and a great father and husband," said the theatre's artistic director David Eisner. "Our hearts are very raw and very supportive at the same time to Linda." Lost in Yonkers is scheduled to resume performances on May 23, with New York actress Finnerty Steeves filling in for Ms. Kash's role of Bella.
Mr. O'Sullivan and Ms. Kash, who is known for her role as the Philadelphia Cream Cheese angel, have three daughters and live on a farm outside of Peterborough.
Memorial services will be held in Peterborough on Saturday, and at Second City in Toronto.