Jackie Burroughs, the beloved Canadian actress, passed away from gastric cancer at her home in Toronto on September 22, 2010. Burroughs was not a conventional actress. She was a rebel in life and in her art. Like many other kids of my generation, I grew up watching Jackie Burroughs portray Hetty King each Monday night on Avonlea, which was called Road to Avonlea in Canada, its country of origin. The wildly successful series ran on CBC and the Disney Channel from 1990 to 1996. Burroughs also made many other important contributions to film, television and theater throughout her distinguished career; as a matter of fact, she acted in over 75 movies, leaving an undeniable mark in film history, although she stayed true to her Canadian roots and never moved to Hollywood to pursue stardom.
Jackie Burroughs began her life in Lancashire, England; she was born on February 2, 1939 to Harry and Edna Burroughs (who had been a silent movie actress). At the age of twelve, Jackie accompanied her parents and younger brother Gary (six years her junior) in a move to Canada, where she then thrived and grew a lifelong love for acting. As a schoolgirl at a private school called Branksome Hall, she was happy-go-lucky and tried hard to please her teachers. She excelled academically, and she was picked to be head girl as a high school senior. She excelled in swimming and would recite Shakespeare at assemblies. Her school success continued at the University of Toronto; she also had her acting debut at the university’s Hart House. She graduated from Trinity College at the University of Toronto in 1961.
In 1962, Burroughs went to England to study dance, mime and drama. She went to Derbyshire and acted in the Chesterfield Civic Theatre, before returning to act in Canadian theater in 1963. She then moved to New York City and picked up a relationship with a love she had met in college, Zalman Yanovsky, who is known for the classic group The Lovin’ Spoonful (think “Do You Believe in Magic,” “Daydream” and “Summer in the City”). Ever the diligent student, she also continued to study theater with such renowned teachers as Uta Hagen.
Jackie and Zalman married in 1967; they had their only daughter, Zoe Yanovsky, later that year, on October 17, 1967. Although the two split up after only a couple of years together, they continued to hold one another in high regard. Zoe lived with Zalman and his new love, Rose Richardson, but she saw Jackie a lot, despite never living with her.
Today, Zoe runs the famous Canadian eateries, Chez Piggy and Pan Chancho Bakery, which her father and Rose created. She has fond memories of her mother, observing how they were fiercely in love with each other. Jackie balanced motherhood and continuing to thrive in her prolific acting career.
When speaking about her mother, Zoe told Canada’s The Globe and Mail that her mother was more of a rebel than anybody she has known. Jackie was a rebel on the set as well, standing up for others’ rights on the set. If she saw a crew member being denied something or being mistreated, she would not stand quietly by. Her integrity served her well and earned the continued admiration of her co-stars, directors and crew members alike.
Jackie’s career went on to have many highlights. Her film credits include The Undergrads, Willard, The Grey Fox, Anne of Green Gables (which, like Road to Avonlea, was produced by Kevin Sullivan), A Winter Tan, and The Care Bears Movie, for which she voiced the Spirit. She is known as a gay icon as well, having portrayed Mother Mucca in Tales of the City and Further Tales of the City. She never slowed down, acting in projects up until her death at the age of 71.
At the time of her death, Burroughs split her time between a home in Toronto and her dream home that she had built in Oaxaca, Mexico. After her cancer diagnosis, she made it a point to help her loved ones have closure and had final conversations with friends and family members. Sarah Polley, who had played the niece who was like a daughter to her on Road to Avonlea, told The Globe and Mail, “”I never knew it was possible to die so eloquently. She’s redefining what it means to die, breaking down boundaries and rules and storming the gates of experience, refusing ever to deny what is real and honest in her work and her life. It’s kind of amazing to see her do that to the end.”