André Arthur, a Quebec City radio personality whose right-wing views, vicious attacks on elites and defamatory on-air personal comments made him a pariah to some but beloved by throngs of loyal listeners, has died. He was 78.
Mr. Arthur, who also worked as a sports referee and long-distance bus driver and was elected twice as an independent Member of the House of Commons for a Quebec City-area riding, was a master communicator and publicity seeker to the end.
He announced his own death on his Twitter account. “Today, May 8, 2022, I died at Laval Hospital. I leave behind in grief my son René (Jade), my three wonderful grandchildren, my daughter Pascale (Louis), my dear Lucy and my brother Louis (Réjane).”
Days before, Mr. Arthur recounted through Tweets from his hospital bed that he had been struck by “a garden-variety Chinese flu,” an apparent reference to COVID-19, which he said had been exacerbated by the discovery that he was also suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
On Twitter, Mr. Arthur ridiculed the nurses attending to him and earlier trashed vaccine mandates, claiming that COVID-19 was no more serious than the seasonal flu. It was unclear whether Mr. Arthur himself had been vaccinated.
Dubbed as “Le Roi Arthur” (King Arthur), the bow-tied Mr. Arthur dominated Quebec City airwaves for decades, bouncing from station to station with his Quebec brand of shock-jock radio, dodging defamation lawsuits and complaints to broadcast regulators but always finding new victims for his insults. Listeners loved it.
Mr. Arthur was seen as the godfather of what came to be known as “Radio Poubelle,” (trash radio), where competing Quebec City radio stations rivalled each other with their lineups of radio personalities who frequently peddled anti-Muslim, homophobic and misogynist views.
Described by some as cultured, gentlemanly and personally charming, Mr. Arthur’s radio personality dripped in sarcasm, venom and personal attacks. He once insinuated that Jean-Paul L’Allier, the city’s mayor at the time, was involved in a juvenile prostitution ring.
The repeated on-air attacks led Mr. L’Allier to lash out at Mr. Arthur, “An odour of pig manure is floating over the city, coming from a source that can be easily traced,” the mayor told reporters during the 2003 incident. “You can’t eliminate the odour of pig manure. … You have to wait until it passes.”
Mr. Arthur gained national attention in 1984, when Corporal Denis Lortie left behind an audio tape at Mr. Arthur’s radio station before heading off to the Quebec National Assembly where he murdered three people with a submachine-gun and injured 13 others.
Later that year, Premier René Lévesque urged the public to boycott Mr. Arthur’s radio show, calling him a “social and political termite” who was a constant source of “roaring stupidity.”
Mr. Arthur, a convinced federalist who didn’t think much of Mr. Lévesque either, claimed that Quebeckers loved the Parti Québécois leader because he was “the physical incarnation of their own inferiority complex. He’s short and he’s a greaseball.”
Mr. Arthur’s right-wing views – he called himself a libertarian – and his frequent attacks on the Quebec independence movement are said to have influenced Quebec City’s political views when it came to the region’s lukewarm support for separatism and the success of the Conservatives during the Harper years.
André Arthur was born in Quebec City on Dec. 21, 1943, the son of René Arthur and Lucie Tanguay. The elder Mr. Arthur had arrived in Canada as an Armenian immigrant but changed his last name, Isaakian, for fear of being confused with being Jewish, according to his son.
René Arthur moved to Quebec City, where he became a successful broadcaster and later was an aide to Quebec premier Jean Lesage.
André Arthur dropped out of Laval University in 1970 while studying political science and began working at radio station CHRC, where he quickly developed a loyal following as a morning man. “He was a phenomenon. He had enormous talent,” said Florian Sauvageau, a retired journalism professor who knew Mr. Arthur for more than 50 years and was often the butt of his on-air insults.
After a period of time doing news on television, Mr. Arthur returned to radio. When he changed stations, his listeners followed and in the mid-1980s, he actually became part owner of his own station. Mr. Sauvageau said Mr. Arthur’s popularity probably peaked in the 1980s as other shock jocks, notably Jeff Fillion, later became more popular. Mr. Arthur was dogged by defamation lawsuits and later moved to Montreal radio stations but never caught on there in the same way and eventually moved back to Quebec City.
Mr. Arthur ran unsuccessfully in Quebec’s 1994 provincial election as an Independent, coming second in the Quebec City riding of Louis–Hébert with 29 per cent of the vote. In 1997, he also ran an unsuccessful bid to become mayor of the Quebec City suburb of Ste-Foy.
He finally made it to elected office in 2006, winning easily as an Independent MP in the riding of Portneuf – Jacques Cartier, a semirural riding west of the city. He boasted that he had spent less than $1,000 on his campaign. Though an independent, he was close to the Conservatives, who didn’t run a candidate against him in 2008, when he won a second term.
Having spent his career criticizing politicians, Mr. Arthur seemed bored with being an MP. He continued to drive charter buses and had one of the worst attendance records in the House. He was defeated by an NDP candidate in 2011.
He went back to radio, doing what he had always done. At his last gig, for a small station outside Quebec City, one day in January, 2018, he lashed out at the LGBTQ community, calling Saint-Jean Street in Quebec City, known for its gay bars, as “AIDS boulevard.” He was fired from the radio station after his homophobic comment caused an uproar. He never returned to broadcasting, preferring to share his controversial views on Twitter.
Mr. Arthur had his defenders.
“He wasn’t the catalyzer of this anger. He was its mirror,” Myriam Ségal, a retired broadcaster who worked with Mr. Arthur during the 1980s, told Le Devoir. “Arthur hated all forms of the establishment, while trusting the intelligence of his listeners.”
But Claude Thibodeau, another fellow broadcaster, said that Mr. Arthur was the incarnation of a kind of “intellectual dishonesty” and hypocrisy, the product of the Quebec City bourgeoisie who ended up attacking elites.
“He was far from being an imbecile,” Mr. Thibodeau told Le Devoir. “You don’t get where he did without being extremely intelligent. That’s why I will never forgive his excesses.”