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Michael Burgess

Theatre star Michael Burgess – who dazzled Toronto audiences as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables and was well-known to sports fans for his stirring rendition of O Canada – died Monday at 70.

The famed tenor passed away in a Toronto hospice surrounded by members of his family, said Bruce Bowser, a family friend. Mr. Burgess had been battling cancer for a number of years.

In a statement, theatre impresario David Mirvish said Mr. Burgess "created the role of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, which was one of the first international blockbusters to have its own production in Canada with a local cast, instead of a touring version."

"He was magnificent in the role and led the all-Canadian cast to great heights," Mr. Mirvish said. "He will be sorely missed."

The Regina-born Burgess played Valjean in more than 1,000 performances at Toronto's Royal Alexandra theatre and on the cross-Canada tour. He also appeared for the 10th anniversary concert at Royal Albert Hall in London.

Mr. Burgess was also known to hockey fans for singing the national anthem for many years at Toronto Maple Leafs home games and was the first person to sing O Canada at a World Series baseball game.

He was also known for his work on TV productions of H.M.S. Pinafore, You Must Remember This and The Sandy Bottom Orchestra.

Mr. Burgess also played roles in TV series such as Street Legal, Border Town, and E.N.G.

He was inducted into the Bobby Orr Hall of Fame in Parry Sound, Ont., in 2003 and the Hall's website says "his performance of 'Danny Boy' has often brought our audiences to tears."

Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre and Royal Alexandra Theatre will dim their marquee lights on Tuesday night for two minutes in Mr. Burgess's memory.

Mr. Bowser says a funeral for Burgess is planned for Oct. 5.