Jean-Louis Roux grew up wanting to be a doctor and studied medicine at the Université de Montréal. He pulled a prank while he was there and very much later in life it would come back to haunt him. But there was more to medicine in the young Jean-Louis. He had been drawn to theatre and acting while still in grade school and although he was studying medicine he also joined the Montréal Repertory Theatre and Les Compagnons de St-Laurent.
Told he should study in France, and with the end of the war, he packed his bags and left the Université de Montréal in 1946 to do just that. When he returned to Canada he founded the Théâtre d’Essai de Montréal (1950-51) and then co-founded the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde (TNM) becoming a lead actor and director with the company. He also turned to writing and wrote successful plays, radio dramas and television shows.
His greatest fame came from his role on Les Plouffe, the very successful Québec situation comedy that ran for a number of years (1953–59). He took over as artistic director of the TNM in 1966 and remained there until 1982 when he was named director of the National Theatre School. In 1994, in part for his loyalty to Canada, he was appointed to the Canadian Senate and remained there until resigning in 1996. As a well-known and prominent actor, both on stage and on television, in English and in French, most people agreed that he was deserving of such an appointment, both for his personal qualities and his long years of service in the arts in Québec. But he had made enemies in his home province when he spoke up against the referendum on sovereignty and campaigned for the No side in 1995. He went as far as to suggest that he might leave Québec if the Yes side was to win. A fierce anti-separatist, he generated enormous controversy when he compared Québec separatists to Nazis.
Upon leaving the Senate he was further honoured by the federal government when, at 73 years old, he became the oldest person ever appointed the 26th Lieutenant-Governor of Québec. But controversy raged around him again when pictures showing Roux wearing a swastika were found. In an interview, he admitted that he had worn a swastika on his lab coat as an act of defiance against conscription during the war. He also admitted that he had joined in an anti-conscription rally that turned into an anti-Jewish rally. As a result of all this, he resigned from the governor-generalship on November 5, 1996. On December 12 1996, Jean Chrétien announced the appointment of Lise Thibault, an ex-Liberal campaigner and an advocate for the rights of the disabled.
On May 31 1997 Jean-Louis Roux returned to public life when the government appointed him to be chair of the Canada Council. He had been made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1971 and was promoted to a Companion of the Order in 1987. In 1989, he was made a Knight of the National Order of Quebec. Roux received a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for his lifetime contributions to Canadian theatre in 2004.
He was 90 when he died in Montreal on November 28, 2013.
Also see: Jean-Louis Roux’s filmography
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