Canadian stage actor Martha Henry, a stalwart of the Stratford Festival, has died at age 83.

Festival organizers say Henry died just after midnight Thursday of cancer at her home in Stratford, just 12 days after gracing the stage for the last time.

Artistic director Antoni Cimolino says their "hearts are shattered." Cimolino goes on to say "In losing Martha Henry we have lost the dearest friend, the most inspiring mentor and an unforgettable, original talent. Her profound love for the Stratford Festival, her ingrained wisdom and her integrity were for me a compass. The name Martha Henry is synonymous with artistry, intelligence and beauty. As an actor, her performances became the stuff of legend. As a director, her productions illuminated not only the text but the world that each actor inhabited as a result of her encouragement and imagination."

A black and white photo of Martha Henry in characterMartha Henry in Long Days Journey Into Night in 1994. (Cylia von Tiedemann/Stratford Festival)

Organizers say Henry spent 47 seasons at the southern Ontario theatre festival between 1962 and 2021, performing in more than 70 productions and directing 14 more.

The festival says Henry received her cancer diagnosis not long before the pandemic shuttered a 2020 production of Three Tall Women. When shows resumed this summer, Henry used a walker throughout rehearsal and early performances, but about a month into the run in September, she moved into a wheelchair.

Her final performance was on Oct. 9. The festival says the show was filmed and it hopes to secure the rights to share it publicly.

“She was an American who came to the festival and moved to Stratford because of the festival. She told me ‘any country that can create the Stratford Festival I want to be a part of,’” Cimolino said. She was born in Detroit in 1938 and moved to Canada in 1959. “There was no one who had a greater impact on the Stratford Festival than Martha Henry.”


With files from The Canadian Press.