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Paul Humphrey performing at the Mod Club in 2011.Alison Wardman/Handout

In 1983, the Canadian synth-pop New Wave band Blue Peter accompanied its song Don’t Walk Past with a video marked by a noir-futurist aesthetic that was cutting-edge. The main attraction was front man Paul Humphrey, a telegenic singer of the debonair and baritone Bryan Ferry kind. If the video was stylish and far out, so was young Mr. Humphrey.

“Paul looked so otherworldly,” said Barenaked Ladies co-founder Steven Page, a suburban teenager in the early 1980s. “I actually thought the video was too cool to be Canadian.”

It is true that Blue Peter’s upscale look and sound was more akin to British bands such as Roxy Music and Simple Minds than Chilliwack, April Wine and Loverboy, the more downmarket Canadian hitmakers of the day.

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​Ticket stub for Blue Peter concert at Carleton University in Ottawa on Sept. 10, 1983.Andrew Walker

“Bands like Blue Peter weren’t just ahead of their time, they were were 3,000 miles away from where they would have prospered more brightly,” said Randy Lennox, former head of Universal Music Canada. “The mechanisms within the Canadian record label system were not in place at the time to break our young artists internationally.”

Indeed, while the Don’t Walk Past video received play on the U.S. network MTV, its exposure to Canadian markets wasn’t widespread. MuchMusic, which would become this country’s counterpart to MTV, was a year away from launching.

Mr. Humphrey was just as suave off camera and offstage as on. “He reminded me of actor John Barrymore,” said Blue Peter bandmate Jason Sniderman. “I always felt like he was born in the wrong era.”

Whether he arrived 80 years too late or two years too early, Mr. Humphrey nevertheless managed to make an elegant case for living in the present. A lean, dark-haired rock star with a theatrical manner and a philosopher’s soul, he seemed to walk an inch or so higher off the ground than most. And yet he was known for his collegial accessibility.

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Mr. Humphrey was just as suave off camera and offstage as on.Alison Wardman/The Canadian Press

Mr. Humphrey died on April 4 after a long battle with multiple system atrophy, a degenerative neurological disorder. He was 61.

On the strength of its debut LP Radio Silence in 1980 and the 1983 album Falling, Blue Peter was a hit with campus radio DJs and Toronto alternative-rock station CFNY. In addition to Don’t Walk Past, successful singles included 1982′s Chinese Graffiti.

The band thrived on the post-secondary circuit and elsewhere landed high-profile gigs with their Brit-rock heroes, including Simple Minds, the Jam and the Police. In 1979, Blue Peter opened for Bob Geldof and the Boomtown Rats at Toronto’s El Mocambo club.

“During their soundcheck they did I Don’t Like Mondays, which had yet to be released,” Blue Peter’s songwriting guitarist Chris Wardman remembered. “At the Concert Hall in Toronto, our teenage dreams came true when the Jam watched us from side stage.”

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Mr. Humphrey performing at Humber College on March 29, 1984.Taza McDoom

The band’s most famous association was with the Police. In addition to playing the third Police Picnic at Toronto’s CNE Stadium in 1983, that same summer Blue Peter opened for the superstar group for a filmed concert at the Spectrum nightclub in Montreal.

“We got to watch the Police do their thing,” Mr. Sniderman said. “Which, at the time, was basically to hate each other.”

In 1984, Blue Peter headlined a sold-out show at the Ontario Place Forum that had the Globe and Mail reviewer Matthew Fraser in full-throated acclaim, saying that the young Toronto band was “one of the best in the country,” and that it was “deserving of reaching a wider audience across Canada.”

The pit-like outdoor amphitheatre on Lake Ontario held more than 12,000 people. “The crowd extended to the top of the hill and over,” said Mr. Sniderman, a keyboardist who joined the band in 1982.

With fans and the big time on the horizon, Mr. Humphrey left Blue Peter in 1985, a move that broke up the band. He was 25 years old. “Paul decided it was time to go back to his first love, which was acting,” Mr. Wardman said.

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Mr. Humphrey left Blue Peter in 1985, a move that broke up the band. He was 25 years old.Alison Wardman

According to Mr. Sniderman there was no animosity, but much disappointment among the other band members. “What could we do but accept Paul’s decision?”

After Blue Peter, Mr. Humphrey led his own ensembles (the Paul Humphrey Band, Monkey Tree and Broken Arrow), acted (including a main role in The Collected Works of Billy The Kid, by Michael Ondaatje, at the Tarragon Theatre in 1990) and worked behind the scenes in theatre and film.

In 2007, he released a solo album, A Rumour of Angels, recorded with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. In 2014, he received a Dora Mavor Moore Award nomination for his sound design on the Soulpepper Theatre Company production of Glenn, directed by Diana LeBlanc.

For a time he supplemented his income from the arts working as a bartender at the Victory Cafe, a convivial watering hole and small performance venue in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood that was popular with university students and the creative class.

That establishment is the setting for Victory Kids, a yet-to-be released song co-written by Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott and Canadian singer-songwriter Emm Gryner. The wistful composition’s last lines refer directly to Mr. Humphrey, a one-time star on the other side of youth and fame who now served and unofficially mentored a younger crowd.

The legend lying low

He’s already gone for gold

The legend lying low

Where did the future go?

Paul David Humphrey was born Sept. 22, 1959, in Vancouver. He was the third of five children to Sidney Allison Humphrey (née Claire) and Jack Humphrey, who had met as actors in the play The Curious Savage. His mother also modelled before raising the family. His writer-producer dad was considered one of the fathers of Canadian situation comedies for his work on CBC’s King of Kensington, Hangin’ In and Seeing Things.

The family moved to Toronto in 1967. As a child, Mr. Humphrey was unusually sympathetic (not putting a new teddy bear into a box for fear it might “smothercate”) and unsettlingly scholarly (handing in a Grade 6 project on the rise and fall of the Third Reich).

At Pleasant View Middle School, he acted in plays such as Arsenic and Old Lace. At L’Amoreaux Collegiate Institute he was the looker with a ponytail and the ability to play the flute.

Blue Peter, named after British children’s show, was founded by high schoolers Mr. Wardman and bassist Geoff McOuat. After the band’s original singer left, Mr. Humphrey stepped in.

“He hadn’t fully developed that signature golden voice of his yet, but we took a crazy chance on Paul’s ability to bluff his way through songs like Sweet Jane,” Mr. Wardman said.

Mr. Humphrey dabbled in acting and briefly studied theatre at York University before dedicating himself full-time as Blue Peter’s lead singer. It was a role he was seemingly born to play, receiving Mr. Wardman’s lyrics as an actor would a script.

“He infused the words with meaning and with depth and with purpose,” said Mr. Sniderman, son of Sam Sniderman, namesake founder of the Sam the Record Man record shop chain. “The band was Chris’s vision, but Paul was sharing a side of himself that was vulnerable and creative.”

All of the Humphrey siblings had a performative streak fostered by their mother, who let her children stay up late to watch classic films on television. John Humphrey is a bass player who played with Carole King and the blues-rock band Savoy Brown. Lesley Humphrey is a former international model. Mark Humphrey is an actor best known for his role in the CTV series E.N.G.. And the youngest, Andrew, is a professional producer-musician who got his first exposure in the music business thanks to his older brother.

“I was just 16 years old when Paul invited me to play a couple of guitar solos on stage with Blue Peter,” Andrew Humphrey said. “When it happened, I saw the potential of a proper career playing music. I’m grateful to Paul for the opportunity.”

Paul’s theatrical flair stood him well when the band made the Don’t Walk Past video. At the time, the art form was in its infancy. “We were all trying to find out what video filmmaking was all about,” said Rob Quartly, the video’s director. “We created a weird world that echoed the music and the dynamic of Paul as a performer.”

At the same time, progressive radio stations and a flourishing college-radio scene in Canada gave rise to a wave of alternative music that distinguished itself from pop and mainstream rock. Blue Peter was part of a movement pioneered by the Toronto band Rough Trade that included the Spoons, Strange Advance and others.

Despite its success, Blue Peter never landed a deal with a major record label. One label executive told the members they were too young. “Even though on his desk we could see a photo of the Beatles as teenagers,” Mr. Wardman remembered.

Mr. Quartly also worked with young stars Corey Hart and Lawrence Gowan. He saw the same wattage in Mr. Humphrey. “He had that potential, and the band had that potential,” the filmmaker said.

On the rise but squabbling with Ready Records, the Canadian independent record label to which they were signed, Blue Peter self-financed the recording of demos for a proposed new album, but broke up in 1985 before the tracks were finished.

In an interview with music journalist Lenny Stoute years later, Mr. Humphrey explained his decision for pulling the chute. “Towards the end of Blue Peter, it didn’t feel like me up there singing,” he said. “It was some pop star guy.”

In 1991, Mr. Humphrey met his future wife at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille, where he was musical director on a children’s pantomime called Old King Cole. “He was so smart and ultra cool and his music on the show was fun, inspired and really challenging in some places,” recalled Allyson McMackon, now artistic director of Theatre Rusticle.

The two were married nearly 30 years before Mr. Humphrey’s death. The couple regularly travelled to Cuba, where musicians would perform at restaurants. When a band would start to play a touristy number such as Hotel California, Mr. Humphrey would quickly ask them for a song they themselves loved.

“They’d sing in Spanish and we’d weep,” Ms. McMackon said. “Paul was a perfect audience member for dance and theatre and music; he watched with open eyes and heart.”

Over the years, Blue Peter reunited for shows on several successful occasions, include an industry gig at Toronto’s Velvet Underground in 1997. “You could have heard a pin drop,” said Mr. Lennox, a champion of the band. “Paul was magnificent.”

In 2013, the singer was misdiagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He kept his voice in shape by reading aloud F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories and the poetry of Billy Collins.

Blue Peter’s last performance was in 2017 at Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre, where one of the final songs Mr. Humphrey ever performed was Don’t Walk Past. “Now out of sight is out of mind
,” he sang. “Waiting for a second chance, a second time.”

Mr. Humphrey leaves his wife, Ms. McMackon; and siblings, John, Lesley, Mark and Andrew.

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