Accolades are pouring in for Richard Monette, long-term artistic director of the Stratford Festival, who died Tuesday night at age 64.

He passed away in London, Ont., succumbing to a pulmonary embolism while in hospital.

"I remember first seeing Richard on the Stratford Festival stage as Berowne in 'Love's Labour's Lost,"' Antoni Cimolino, the festival's director general, said Wednesday in a statement.

"He was brilliant -- so brilliant that it changed my life and I'm sure the lives of many, many others. He made one of the most difficult parts in Shakespeare seem effortless and a joy. And so he did for the all the great roles he played, from Hamlet to Hosanna."

Des McAnuff, who succeeded Monette as artistic director, first saw his friend performing in "Hosanna," "in which he was utterly virtuosic" as the transvestite title character.

"(Monette) was a brilliant actor, a gifted director, an inspiring artistic director and a great Canadian. I will sorely miss his wit, his insight, his advice and especially the warmth and wisdom that were among his many distinguished attributes," McAnuff said in a statement.

"The entire Stratford Shakespeare Festival family is in mourning, and we will not fill the immense void left by the loss of our beloved artistic statesman anytime soon."

Monette was born in Montreal to a French-Canadian father and an Italian mother. He attended Loyola College, now known as Concordia University.

His professional stage debut came in Toronto, where he played Hamlet.

Monette's association with Stratford began in 1965. He performed in "Henry IV," parts 1 and 2, and in "Julius Caesar." He went on to perform in Toronto and London, England. He also appeared on TV and in the films "Iceman" and "I've Heard The Mermaids Singing."

His career shifted gears in 1988. Monette directed "The Taming of the Shrew" at Stratford, a production seen as a great success. He would direct another 40 productions.

In 1994, the festival named Monette as its artistic director -- the first one to be born in Canada. He would stay in the job until 2007 when he retired. During his time, the festival reached record levels of attendance.

Other achievements under his tenure include:

  • Extensive renovations of the Festival and Avon theatres
  • The founding of the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre
  • The establishment of a formal program of new play development
  • The creation of a fourth venue, the Studio Theatre;
  • The building of a $50-million endowment.

Among his many honors, Monette received honorary doctorates from three universities and was named to the Order of Canada in 1997.

A gala celebration marketed his retirement in 2007. At that event, festival alumnus Christopher Plummer called Monette "the man who wouldn't quit."

"The single most important thing he will be remembered for is that he saved this theatre," Plummer said.

When he retired, Monette had this to say about his career at Stratford: "I couldn't have done this for any other theatre. I love Stratford, it's given me a lot. "

"It's gone by like a twinkling of an eye."

Monette is survived by his brother Mark. A memorial service will be held at the Festival Theatre, but the date isn't available yet.

With files from The Canadian Press