Bernard "Bunny" Behrens
Behrens, Bernard 'Bunny'
After a very extended run, Bernard "Bunny" Behrens, a consummate Canadian theatre, television, film, and every-moment-of-the-day actor, completed his final act on this stage at 8:45 pm on Wednesday, September 19 in Perth, Ontario, just shy of his 86th birthday. His passing to the next stage was peaceful and it appears that the audition for his next role was successful.
Bunny, as he insisted on being called, was married to Canadian actor Deborah Cass (nee Bernice Katz), who sadly passed away in 2004, and was father to three sons: Mark (of Dallas, Texas), Matthew (of Perth, Ontario) and Adam (of London, England), grandfather to Taylor, Spenser, and Kate. As a boy in Depression-era London, Bunny dreamed from the age of 7 of being a Hollywood actor, and escaped the privations of poverty when he sneaked into movie theatres to live out the fantasy world of Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Irene Dunne, and Myrna Loy, a world he eventually immersed himself in for more than half a century, one of the few individuals who can say they had a good life as a working actor. As a child evacuee during the Second World War, Bunny was forced to live by his wits with a foster family, an experience he never forgot and which often haunted him throughout his life.
His path took him everywhere from the Bristol Old Vic to Canadian Players Tours in the 1950s and 1960s, CBC TV and Radio in their golden age, Toronto's Crest Theatre, Halifax's Neptune (where he, along with Debbie, were founding members under the direction of Leon Major), The Stratford and Shaw Festivals, and a decade in Hollywood, where his appearances in 1970s TV series from Dallas, Starsky and Hutch and Bionic Woman to Columbo and Marcus Welby, MD, among many others, still grace late night TV. Bunny, a Gemini Award winner and many time Gemini nominee, appeared in hundreds of films and TV shows, and always generously shared humorous anecdotes about his work with folks in the business.
Diagnosed with dementia four years ago, Bunny's final gigs were the much-loved Young Farley in the Shaw Festival production of Belle Moral, along with a brief appearance in the TV program Living in Your Car. His final years were spent in Niagara on the Lake and, for the past year, in Perth, Ontario, where he met the actors and enjoyed a performance at the Classic Theatre Festival, run by his daughter-in-law Laurel Smith. The last show he attended was a production of Mary, Mary in Perth, in which he starred 50 years ago in the Canadian premiere at the Neptune Theatre. Bunny's picture (alongside of fellow Canadian actor Ted Follows), graced the Festival lobby throughout the summer.
When Bunny suffered a major stroke one month ago, an attendant who recognized him asked if Bunny used to be an actor.
Despite difficulty talking and moving, Bunny responded, with his trademark tongue and attitude, "I still AM an actor!"
The family wishes to thank the staff and residents of Lanark Lodge for their wonderful welcoming and care of Bunny over the past year.
A celebration of the lives of Bunny Behrens and Deborah Cass is being planned, with details to be announced soon. Arrangements are in the care of Blair & Son Funeral Directors, Perth 613-267-3765.
A facebook tribute page will be available shortly.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations (tax deductible) be made to the Classic Theatre Festival (www.classictheatre.ca at the Donate Now button).
Director of Community Outreach
Classic Theatre Festival
Presenting the Classic Hits of Broadway and the London Stage
Box 2121, 57 Foster Street
Perth, Ontario K7H 1R0
(613) 264-8088; 1-877-283-1283 EXT. 3 (toll free)