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Janet Wright, Star Of 'Corner Gas,' Dead At 71

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Award-winning stage and screen actress Janet Wright, best known for her portrayal of the long-suffering matriarch on "Corner Gas,'' died Monday in Vancouver, according to CTV, which aired the long-running sitcom.

Wright was 71. No cause of death was released.

The gravelly-voiced performer starred as Emma Leroy on the beloved hit Canadian series, which ended its six-season run in 2009 and returned with a big-screen adaptation in 2014.

Wright's character Emma was the wife of Oscar Leroy, played by Eric Peterson, and mother to Brent, portrayed by series creator and star Brent Butt.

janet wright
Award-winning stage and screen actress Janet Wright, shown in a handout photo, best known for her portrayal of the long-suffering matriarch on 'Corner Gas,' has died at age 71.

Peterson, who had known Wright for 50 years, said she was "an incredibly, wonderfully complex woman of tremendous strength and intelligence and a wonderful actress.''

"She knew a lot about the art of acting and the art of theatre as a director,'' Peterson said Monday.

"The wonderful thing about her as an actress — especially in something like 'Corner Gas' — she brought so much to that part as only Janet could. Even the simplest line, she thoroughly thought it through. She seemed to be able to give a straightforward line that was redolent with meaning. Often my character was the brunt of that redolent meaning too.

"Janet was like no other person I've ever met.''

"I'm just very sad. We're the same age. One's reminded how short life is.''

In a statement, Butt added "Janet was like no other person I've ever met.''

"She had a giant wit, a giant heart, and was one of the strongest human beings to ever stride around this planet.''

Actor Fred Ewanuick, who played Hank Yarbo, posted a message about Wright on his Twitter account.

"We lost a member of our family. It hurts. I love you Janet,'' he said.

janet wright
Canadian actress Janet Wright is shown in a handout photo.

Born in England on March 8, 1945, Wright and her family relocated to Canada and eventually settled in Saskatoon.

Her family discovered a passion for local theatre, and Wright joined her sister Susan as co-founder of Saskatoon's Persephone Theatre in 1974.

"We lost a member of our family. It hurts.''

While she eventually moved away from Saskatoon to pursue other acting roles, Wright never forgot her theatre roots, said Del Surjik, Persephone's artistic director.

In 2014, she returned to direct its season opener "Hedda Gabbler.''

Surjik remembered Wright for her ability to be upfront and outspoken with her friends and colleagues.

"You can't help but laugh with her while she does it,'' she said.

"She'd do it with a smile and a wink. (And) made every bit of it an exercise in comic delivery.''

Wright performed across the country

Wright performed at virtually every major theatre company in Canada.

She had been affiliated with the Vancouver Arts Club Theater since the early 1970s, and also directed for many major theatre companies across Canada, including productions at Ontario's Stratford Festival.

"Janet was an artist on an uncompromising search for the truth in all its unvarnished beauty,'' said Stratford Festival artistic director Antoni Cimolino, who directed Wright as Ma Joad in the 2011 production of "The Grapes of Wrath.''

janet wright
Award-winning stage and screen actress Janet Wright poses for a photo.

"She was a profoundly talented actress, director and champion for the importance of the arts. I will never forget her passion and forever be inspired by her commitment to our work.''

She won the best actress Genie Award in 1992 for "Bordertown Cafe,'' and won the best supporting actress in a dramatic program or miniseries award in 2003 for "Betrayed.''

Her film credits include "The Perfect Storm,'' opposite George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, and TV appearances on series "Dark Angel,'' "The King of Kensington'' and "The Beachcombers.

— with files from David Friend

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