Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Rest in Peace Ed

Honest Ed's
Originally uploaded by Julep67
Toronto's iconic shopkeeper turned theatre impresario and philanthropist, Ed Mirvish, has died at the age of 92.

He died early Wednesday morning of natural causes, his family confirmed.

Mirvish's long career began with humble roots and grew to an empire of stores and restaurants, including his discount emporium Honest Ed's at the intersection of Bloor and Bathurst streets in Toronto.

The kitschy building, a landmark since it opened in the 1940s, sports a big orange sign proclaiming "Honest Ed's" lit by thousands of flashing lights, surrounded by humorous plaques proclaiming slogans such as "Honest Ed is for the birds … cheap, cheap, cheap."

Mirvish was also known for his giveaways, equal parts marketing stunts and an expression of his generous community spirit: for example, he handed out free turkeys at the discount store near certain holidays and hosted street parties on his birthday, doling out free hot dogs and cake.

He was at least as well-known for his generosity to the arts, however. Inspired by his wife Anne, an artist and singer, Mirvish eventually added live theatre to his growing enterprises.

In 1963, he saved Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre from demolition and restored the historic downtown venue.

In 1982, Mirvish purchased and refurbished Britain's famed Old Vic Theatre in London and, in 1993, built the Princess of Wales Theatre with his son David.

Though the Mirvishes later sold the Old Vic (to the Old Vic Theatre Trust in 1998), the family has developed a reputation as a heavyweight among the theatre community.

Over the years, David Mirvish — a former art dealer — has also become a force in the international theatre world, involved in major endeavours like The Lord of the Rings musical and producing shows for Broadway and London's West End.

The Mirvishes are also known for bringing top theatrical productions to Toronto and across Canada, including Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Rent and The Who's Tommy.

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