Canadian writer and actor William (Bill) Whitehead has died.

HarperCollins Publishers says he died Thursday in Toronto after recently being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He was 86.

Whitehead was known for his documentary work at the CBC, where he wrote many seasons of The Nature of Things, for which he won several awards. 

He was also the longtime partner of the late Canadian author Timothy Findley, with whom he collaborated on many radio and TV scripts, including the miniseries The National Dream: Building the Impossible Railway.

‘Quick with a clever turn of phrase, a telling anecdote and an actor’s skill at delivering a great punchline, Bill delighted in the world of the theatre and loved an audience.’ – Iris Tupholme, HarperCollins

The pair were together for over 40 years and met when the Regina-raised Whitehead was acting at the Red Barn Theatre in Jackson’s Point, north of Toronto.

When Findley died, Whitehead edited a collection of his work in Journeyman: Travels with a Writer, published in 2003.

“Bill was the person who made [Findley’s] life and art possible, creating the space that allowed [him] to write the works of fiction that made him one of the most beloved authors in the country,” Iris Tupholme, senior vice-president and executive publisher of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., said in a statement.

“Although [Findley’s] stature sometimes seemed to overshadow Bill’s contributions, Bill was a successful actor, scriptwriter and author himself. Quick with a clever turn of phrase, a telling anecdote and an actor’s skill at delivering a great punchline, Bill delighted in the world of the theatre and loved an audience.”

In 2012, Whitehead published the memoir Words to Live By, which was nominated for the Stephen Leacock Medal for humour.

Marc Côté, publisher of Words to Live By, said Whitehead had a “straight-ahead approach to life.”

“He tackled projects and adversity with a rare clarity of mind and good humour,” Côté said.

Tupholme described him as “fiercely loyal, generous and kind” and “a tireless advocate for writers, artists and actors.”

HarperCollins says at Whitehead’s request, there will be no funeral or memorial service. 

William (Bill) Whitehead

Whitehead ‘tackled projects and adversity with a rare clarity of mind and good humour,’ said Marc Côté, publisher of his 2012 book Words to Live By. (HarperCollins Canada)