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Marcel Dubé wrote over 20 television plays, 30 stage plays and 300 literary pieces, despite struggling with depression and self-doubt following the immense popularity of his second stage work, Zone, in 1953.

La Presse Scanné

Actor and theatre director Albert Millaire referred to him as Quebec's Tennessee Williams.

Marcel Dubé, arguably one of the province's most prolific and influential writers, was second in a short line of playwrights, after Gratien Gélinas and before Michel Tremblay, who contributed to the birth of a national theatre commenting on the struggles of working-class Quebeckers.

His vast collection of plays, novels and television dramas were set from the 1950s to the end of the Quiet Revolution in 1970, and captured the dramatic changes the writer witnessed in society around him – secularization, the creation of a welfare state and the division of Quebec into federalist and separatist factions.

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Modest by nature, he was, by his own admission, "a simple playwright," who used sparse but powerful language to make a living, as meagre as it was. Embarrassed by the accolades heaped on him, he was more comfortable hanging around with the stage lighting and sound crews than politicians, actors and the elite.

Mr. Dubé died in his sleep at home on April 7. He was 86.

The third eldest of eight children – six boys and two girls – Marcel Dubé was born Jan. 3, 1930, and grew up on Logan Street in Montreal's working-class east end.

His mother, Juliette (née Bélanger), and father, Eugène Dubé, were together for 60 years, according to Mr. Dubé's niece, Marie-Hélène Dubé.

"They were one of the most loving couples I have ever met," Ms. Dubé said. "My grandmother was a very cultivated woman. In those days, girls didn't study, but she had an interest in the world."

Marcel's father, who was an office clerk, would build a skating rink every winter in the yard behind the family's modest home. The parents valued education and Mr. Dubé attended local primary schools before studying at Collège Sainte-Marie de Montréal, which was founded by Jesuit priests in 1848.

"I really enjoyed those days in school but what I regret now is not having been very studious," Mr. Dubé said in a documentary produced last year by Radio-Canada, the French-language arm of the CBC.

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But theatre was his passion and at the age of 18 and with some friends, he founded the theatrical troupe La jeune scène. They organized evenings during which they'd perform short plays preceded by talks by eminent theatre people.

As a young man, Mr. Dubé worked as a ticket collector at a Montreal theatre and once the audience had settled into their seats and the curtain rose, he'd watch the play himself.

One of the plays showing at the time was Ti-Coq, by Mr. Gélinas, which had extraordinary success and inspired Mr. Dubé. It was the first time Quebec audiences had a chance to see a play performed in their own language.

"I saw that doing Québécois theatre in a sober and very professional way was possible," Mr. Dubé recalled in the documentary, his voice barely audible due to a laryngectomy after a bout of throat cancer in the 1990s.

His first play, De l'autre côté du mur, was staged in 1952, when Mr. Dubé was just 22 years old, followed by Zone in 1953, which was based on his childhood memories of teenage boys selling contraband cigarettes. It was wildly successful, leaving a somewhat depressed Mr. Dubé wondering how he could ever top it.

"After that I didn't know what to do," he told Radio-Canada. "I was certainly still involved in theatre but wondered if I had anything else to say."

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Despite that self-doubt, Mr. Dubé went on to write more than 20 television plays, 30 stage plays and 300 literary pieces, with the earlier works about the urban working class and later focusing on the misery of the rich. They always included elements of family conflict, religion, broken dreams and human failure.

He claims his most emotional writing was in his two-act play Un simple soldat, about soldiers coming back from the war. It was based, in part, on Mr. Dubé's own two months in the military, which he quit in disgust because everything was in English.

The dawn of Canadian television in 1952 broadened his audience and scope. His plays were shot live to air, leaving no room for mistakes. For the first time, the working class could see their lives reflected in his works, which, until then, had only been seen by those who could afford to go to the theatre. The weekly television show, which Quebec families gathered every Sunday evening to watch, was called Le monde de Marcel Dubé (Marcel Dubé's World).

"It was hard, but it was marvellous when we all got out alive," Mr. Dubé said last year about the plays being shot live.

His drama series were also huge hits, especially De 9 à 5 (9 to 5), which portrayed the lives of a boss and his employees. It ran for 106 episodes from 1963 to 1966.

He was often criticized for not writing in joual, the language of working-class Quebeckers and recognized as a symbol of national identity by many artists. He made no apologies, only saying his writing was simple, with no superfluous words and every sentence having a beginning and end.

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Publishing company Leméac hired Mr. Dubé's brother, Yves, to oversee all the authors and their manuscripts. Family friend Bertrand de Cardaillac, who was in the publishing business, recalls a certain amount of friction between the brothers, with Yves scrambling to meet deadlines while Marcel, the artist, left things to the last minute.

"I was very close with Yves and our children grew up together," Mr. de Cardaillac said in an interview. "Marcel's success was greatly due to the support of his brother."

The entire family had a love of writing and for language, but none achieved as much success as Marcel, said Marie-Hélène Dubé, Yves Dubé's daughter.

"I would have liked him to have shared more with me, but whether it was due to his mood or illness, I never had that closeness with him," she said. "It's a bit sad, because it was a missed opportunity."

Despite his popularity in Quebec and to some extent in the rest of Canada, Mr. Dubé was not well off, and felt financial pressure, Mr. de Cardaillac said.

"On the one hand, he was happy with his work and the milieu in which he lived and he had incredible parents," he said. "But materially and psychologically, I think he suffered a lot."

His relationship with Radio-Canada was soured by their refusal to pay him what he felt his work was worth.

"When other writers negotiated with them, they'd say 'we can't pay you more than we pay Dubé,'" he said in the documentary. "They used me like that. It was a take it or leave it situation."

In the early 1970s, Mr. Dubé was diagnosed with Crohn's, a chronic inflammatory disease of the intestines, which he fought for seven years. In his weakened state, he could no longer write, so to pay his bills, he sold his rights to his publisher. While hospitalized and close to death at the Centre hospitalier universitaire de Sherbrooke, he met nurse Francine, who had no idea of her patient's fame, being 18 years younger than him and not interested in theatre.

"I had to read some of his books through the night to find out who I was dealing with," Ms. Dubé said in an interview. "I always loved American literature, so French Quebec theatre was difficult to read and not very happy."

When released from hospital, Mr. Dubé asked Francine to move to his cottage in Magog, Que. and become his full-time nurse.

"He regained his health and I fell in love with him," she said. "I saw the other face of the moon."

The two married in 1976. It was Mr. Dubé's second marriage; his first was to Nicole Fontaine.

He never had children.

The second union wasn't always smooth sailing, and the couple separated a few times, even divorced once but reconciled.

"We were very independent," his widow said.

"He was very kind and we laughed a lot," she said. "But he could also be very quiet, living in his own world, occupied by his thoughts. We could spend hours together not talking."

The accolades he received included the Athanase-David prize, the Victor Morin prize from the Société Saint-Jean Baptiste, and the Molson Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts. He is also an Officier de l'Ordre national du Québec and an officer of the Order of Canada.

Mr. Dubé leaves his wife, Francine; his sister, Mariette Dubé; and his brother, Bernard Dubé.

"He loved living and wasn't ready to die," Francine said. "He was very attached to this world."

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