Arthur Black, the humorist and former CBC Radio host, has died aged 74 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
His partner, Lynne Raymond, confirmed he died at Lady Minto Hospital on Salt Spring Island, B.C., on Wednesday.
“It will come as no surprise to those who have been fans of Arthur’s work that he faced it all with his own unique combination of defiance and good humour,” said Chris Straw, Black’s longtime producer, in a statement on behalf of the family.
“The family is very grateful for the overwhelming messages of support and good wishes received during his struggle with pancreatic cancer.”
Black wrote on his blog about being diagnosed with what he called “the Mike Tyson of Cancers.”
“So what’s it like to get what amounts to a diagnosis of ‘terminal’ from your doctor?” he wrote. “Like getting smacked by a giant Nerf bat, initially. It rocks you back on your heels and yet it doesn’t hurt. Not yet.”
‘You felt he was on your side’
Black got his start with the CBC in Thunder Bay, Ont., in 1972.
Basic Black was a Saturday morning staple on CBC Radio for 19 years, ending in 2002 when he retired. It was one of the network’s most popular variety shows, heard by 600,000 listeners every week.
Black’s farewell episode, aired on June 29, 2002:
Straw said Black’s appeal lay in how relatable he was.
“You felt he was on your side … just everyday things that happened in life, he would find the humour in them and I think people could connect to that,” Straw said Thursday.
“We were able, in the last year of the show, to go and do a number of public events. The outpouring of support and the amount of people who lined up to get into those shows was a stunning example of how popular he had become and how many people just saw him as a friend.”
Despite his scores of fans, Black was a writer first and foremost, Straw said.
“I think many people would’ve thought, listening to him on the radio, that he was an extroverted, outgoing guy. He was actually a very private person and he saw himself primarily as a writer,” said the producer.
“He took the art of writing very seriously.”
Anna Bonokoski worked on Basic Black for two years before Black’s retirement and said much the same.
“Man, oh man, could that guy weave together words in a way,” she said. “Arthur was able to tell a whole, entire, rich story in very few words. He was concise, almost poetic, in his abilities.”
Bonokoski said he carried his “immaculate sense of humour” in all of his work.
On top of his radio work, Black wrote several books and had a syndicated humour column in Canadian newspapers.
He won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal three times, most recently with Pitch Black in 2006. The book was a collection of stories about “offbeat and eccentric characters.”
“It was a cavalcade,” he said of his CBC career. “But it’s always been fun. Better than having to work for a living.”
In January, Black said it seemed “grandiose” to think about how he’d be remembered.
“If I can … hiccup their lips into a smile, that would be nice.”