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Roger Abbott, left, as author Peter C. Newman interviewing Don Ferguson as Prime Minister Paul Martin in the Air Farce's New Year's Eve special, which aired Dec. 30, 2005.

CBC

Canadian actor and comedian Roger Abbott, who captivated the country with his hilarious take on the nation's newsmakers for decades, has died. He was 64.

The man best known for co-creating and starring on "The Royal Canadian Air Farce" lost a 14-year-battle with leukemia at Toronto General Hospital on Saturday.

One of his closest friends and co-stars called Mr. Abbott a "guiding light" on the television show which originally began on the radio in 1973.

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"Today's a tough day, I lost a best friend and my business partner," said Don Ferguson.

Mr. Abbott was first diagnosed with leukemia in 1997 but kept his illness a secret from all but a few close friends and relatives until recently because he didn't want any special treatment.

"He didn't want it to be a distraction," said Mr. Ferguson. "He was a private person."

Mr. Ferguson, who had been friends with Mr. Abbott since they were 13-year-old schoolboys in Montreal, said the actor had a "wicked wit" on and off the screen.

"There were things he said about people that were bang on," he said with a chuckle. "He also had the ability to make an insult sound like a compliment."

Despite his biting tongue, Mr. Abbott, who was a confirmed bachelor, never lacked company.

"He lived alone but he was never lonely," said Mr. Ferguson, adding that Mr. Abbott was very close to his friends, his sister and her family.

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Mr. Abbott was born in Birkenhead, England, and later lived in Montreal and Toronto.

He played a number of characters on "Air Farce," including former prime minister Jean Chretien, former U.S. president George W. Bush and the CBC's Peter Mansbridge.

"That was part of the fun of 'Air Farce.' We never tried to do perfect impersonations, we tried to do caricatures," said Mr. Ferguson, calling Mr. Abbott his partner in creative crime.

"He's going to leave a big hole in the lives of everyone who knew him."

As news of Mr. Abbott's death spread, broadcasters and comedians from across the country began to express their loss.

CBC, which broadcast Mr. Abbott's show for years, said the comedian was "at the very heart" of the network's family.

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"He was, to generations of fans, among the best-known and loved in the history of Canadian comedy," Kirstine Stewart, executive vice-president of English services, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Broadcast Museum Foundation said Mr. Abbott fought hard to ensure the preservation of the country's broadcast heritage.

"No one was better placed to understand the importance of radio and television in the evolution of this country and who we are as Canadians," said foundation executive director Kealy Wilkinson.

"His wisdom, talent, energy - and yes, his impeccable sense of the ridiculous - will be greatly missed."

Comedian Shaun Majumder, from "This Hour has 22 Minutes," said Mr. Abbott was a highly respected peer, and considered a national icon by many.

"He was a warm kind soul amongst all these ego, fear-driven people," said the 38-year-old actor, who guest-starred on "Air Farce" multiple times.

"His impact on Canadian television, radio and comedy in general is so huge, it's so massive and so rooted in Canadian culture that his life will be celebrated for a very, very long time."

A memorial to celebrate Mr. Abbott's life is being planned.

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