11/16/2012 04:10 EST | Updated 01/16/2013 05:12 EST

Playwright David Freeman brought disability stories to stage

Canadian playwright and poet David Freeman, who broke new ground by bringing to life stories about people with disabilities, has died. He was 67.

Freeman died Wednesday after a long illness, according to a release from Tarragon Theatre.

Freeman, who had cerebral palsy, created the play Creeps, based on the limitations of a disabled man working in a shelter. First presented at Factory Theatre in Toronto, it launched the first season at fledgling Tarragon Theatre in 1971.

Helmed by founding artistic director Bill Glassco, it was a resounding critical and financial success and helped establish Tarragon as a place to stage Canadian stories, according to the release.

In 1973, Freeman won the Floyd S. Chalmers award for a Canadian play for Creeps.

His other plays include Battering Ram, in which a professional volunteer offers a young man suffering from cerebral palsy a room in her home, but then involves him in a form of dysfunctional sexual exploitation and You're Going to Be Alright, Jamie- Boy, in which a young man returns to an abusive home after undergoing treatment in a psychiatric hospital.

Tarragon presented Battering Ram in 1972 and You're Gonna Be All Right, Jamie-Boy in 1974 and organized a reading of Creeps with a number of young actors on its 40th anniversary.

"David Freeman was instrumental in the genesis of Canadian playwriting. By taking his own struggle with illness and putting it on the stage, he paved a path, ensuring we could tell our own stories — and demonstrated there was an audience for them. We mourn his loss but celebrate his contribution," says current Tarragon artistic director Richard Rose.

Freeman's plays were produced across Canada and Jamie-Boy also had an off-Broadway run. In addition to producing his plays Montreal's Centaur Theatre published a booklet of his poetry.

In his book Half Man Half Beast, Maurice Podbrey, who directed Creeps on the Centaur stage, called Freeman “one of the most important Canadian playwrights.” He “struggled his way into literacy, into learning, into an academic career through tremendous personal effort of will, and then into writing,” said Podbrey, a Centaur founder.

Freeman also worked as a journalist for Maclean's Magazine, Toronto Daily Star and Star Weekly.

Born in Toronto, he spent his youth at the Sunnyview School for the Handicapped, where he was encouraged to write short stories. He began writing freelance articles, including one titled "The World of Can't," about the frustrations of individuals with cerebral palsy trying to live on equal terms in society.

Freeman studied political science at McMaster University, graduating in 1971. Glassco then suggested he adapt “The World of Can’t” for the stage in the production that became Creeps.

His other works include 1976’s Flytrap which was presented at the Saidye Bronfman Centre in Montreal; Year of the Soul, which aired on CBC radio in 1982, and A Bedful of Strangers which was staged at Kawartha Summer Festival in 1991.

Freeman lived for many years in Montreal with his life partner, disabled artist Francine Marleau, until her death in 2010.