British-born Canadian theatre, TV and film actor Bernard “Bunny” Behrens, the voice of Nietre in the Marvel Enterprises/Saban Entertainment series Silver Surfer, died September 19 in Perth, Ontario, just shy of his 86th birthday.
Silver Surfer aired on FOX in the United States and Teletoon in Canada. Harlan Ellison was one of its writers.
Behrens also provided additional voices in 1981’s Smurfs.
He voiced Obi-Wan Kenobi in the National Public Radio dramatizations of Star Wars (1981), The Empire Strikes Back (1983) and Return of the Jedi (1996).
In 1992, he won the Gemini — the Canadian equivalent of the Emmy — for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Program or Mini-Series in connection with his work in Saying Goodbye. He won a 1995 Gemini for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for the TV-movie Coming of Age.
Behrens received Gemini nominations in 1986 for Best Performance by a Supporting Actor for the TV-movie Turning to Stone, and in 2005 for Best Performance by an Actor in a Guest Role (Dramatic Series) for This Is Wonderland.
As a boy in Depression-era London, the city of his birth, Behrens dreamed from age 7 of being a Hollywood actor. He 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.
As a child evacuee during the Second World War, he 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, the TV and radio services of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in their golden age; Toronto’s Crest Theatre; Halifax’s Neptune (where he and his wife were founding members under the direction of Leon Major); the Stratford and Shaw Festivals; and a decade in Hollywood, where his appearances in 1970s series from Dallas, Starsky and Hutch and The Bionic Woman to Columbo and Marcus Welby, MD, among many others, still grace late-night TV.
Behrens 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, he had his final gigs as 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, Ontario and, for the last year of his life, in Perth, where he was cared for in Lanark Lodge. Also in Perth, 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 its Canadian premiere at the Neptune Theatre.
His picture (alongside that of fellow Canadian actor Ted Follows) graced the Festival lobby throughout the summer.
When Behrens suffered a major stroke a month before his death, an attendant who recognized him asked if he used to be an actor. Despite difficulty talking and moving, he responded, with his trademark tongue and attitude, “I still AM an actor!”
Bunny, as he insisted on being called, was married to Canadian actress Deborah Cass (nee Bernice Katz) for almost 50 years until her death in 2004. He is survived by sons Mark, of Dallas, Texas; Matthew, of Perth; and Adam, of London; and by grandchildren Taylor, Spenser and Kate.
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 was planned.
In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations (tax-deductible) be made to the Classic Theatre Festival (www.classictheatre.ca at the Donate Now button).