Rita MacNeil’s passing part of a tough week at the Trailer Park

April has been a cruel month. So many departures it is hard to keep up.
Rita MacNeil, the pride of Cape Breton, charmed millions with her musical TV specials in the ’80s and ’90s. Shy and humble, she touched many who saw in her somebody they knew and loved and could relate to. Canadian singing superstars are more packaged and marketed as TV Idols these days, but MacNeil was from a kinder, gentler time. She impressed you with her talent first and her warmth a close second. She died April 16 and was 68.
MacNeil was one of three Canadians who had an association with one TV show–Trailer Park Boys–to pass away in recent weeks. They’ve all died, in fact, since production began a month ago on the third Trailer Park movie.
As Motorweek cinematographer Danny Bailey reminded me last week, MacNeil played herself in the Season Four finale, “Working Man.” In the episode, MacNeil and her backup singers were forced to harvest marijuana at gunpoint by Ricky, Julian and Bubbles.
MacNeil must have had some sense of humour. Her character never complains, and even sweetly informs Ricky, “Here’s a nice one, dear,” when handing him yet another dope plant.

Brian Huggins, a.k.a. “Shitty” Bill

Gotta love the gal for that. CBC live streamed her memorial celebrations Monday in her hometown of Big Pond, Nova Scotia. You can watch it here. That teapot in front of the alter? Contains Rita’s ashes. That special down home touch, right to the end.
Speaking of Trailer Park BoysBrian Huggins, a career journalist who worked in both his native England as well as in Canada, didn’t start acting until after he had retired. He died March 29 at 81.
After showing up as a background player in dozens of productions, Huggins played “Shitty” Bill, the scrap dealer who helped Bubbles wrangle all those shopping carts. Bubbles mentioned how the character was offended by his own nickname. In the next scene, Bubbles refers to him simply as “Shitty,” suggesting it was the “Bill” part that bugged him.

Richard Collins

Richard Collins, who played “Phil” Collins (short for Philadelphia), has also gone to the Dirty Burger in the sky. A belcher without peer, he was working on the 3rd Trailer Park movie when he died April 15. Not much else is known about his passing; the Newfoundland native “wanted to go quietly,” tweeted director Mike Clattenburg. Check out the best of Phil Collins here, it is freakin’ hilarious.
A character who was never on Trailer Park Boys, but would have fit right in as some sort of American cousin, was Terry Morrow. He died April 16 after a brave fight against pancreatic cancer.

Terry Morrow and his Tennessee squeeze, Dolly Parton

The 52-year-old Tennessee native covered the TV beat for the Knoxville News Sentinel and was a regular at Television Critics Association press tours the past decade or so. Terry had the drawl and a dry sense of humour to match. He was always up for some sort of TCA caper. A sweet guy, he formed real attachments to some of the celebrities he interviewed, especially
local heroes Dolly Parton and P.J. Clapp, a.k.a. Johnny Knoxville.
“Terry Morrow was my favorite reporter,” Parton told the News Sentinel Tuesday. “He had kept up with me and Dollywood for nearly 30 years. He had a great heart and the courage of a warrior. He handled his last battle like he did his reporting — with all his might. I loved Terry and I believed he loved me.”
Morrow had missed a few tours due to poor health but battled back to make it as a presenter at a recent TCA Awards. He came on stage to a smattering of applause. “Thanks, but I expected more of a fuss,” he said at the time.
He deserved it, too, but the room had already changed pretty drastically by then, with many colleagues already off a disappearing beat.
Terry was friendly and good-natured and determined to keep doing what he loved for as long as he could. He was an inspiration to those of us who knew him. He’ll be missed.

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