Kenneth Welsh, a prolific Canadian actor with more than 200 screen credits, died Thursday night. He was 80 years old.
ACTRA, the Canadian film and television syndicate, confirmed the news on Friday.
“Ken was one of Canada’s greatest artists of all time, with hundreds of memorable roles over decades,” ACTRA said in a statement. “He will be greatly missed. Our condolences to his loved ones.”
Welsh is best known to American audiences for his role as Windom Earle, the crazed FBI agent in the second season of the groundbreaking television series “Twin Peaks”.
He was a consistent figure on television in Canada, frequently starring in TV movies, and portrayed various historical figures on screen.
Born in 1942 in Edmonton, Alberta, Welsh studied at the National Theater School of Canada in Montreal. He then spent the early years of his career as a performer at the world-famous Stratford Festival, which is renowned for its performances of Shakespeare’s plays. In 2006, he would play himself in an episode of “Slings & Arrows,” an acclaimed comedy series set in a fictional Stratford-inspired theater company.
Welsh’s first screen credit was as an actor in “Shoestring Theatre,” a 1963 CBC anthology series that saw a group of actors perform minimalist, experimental productions of plays. He made a few more television appearances in the 1960s, including TV movie versions of “Henry V” (where he played Grey) and “The Three Musketeers” (where he played the central role of D’Artagnan).
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Welsh worked primarily in Canada.
He had notable roles in television movies like “Hedda Gabler”, “Reno and the Doc”, “A Stranger Waits” and “Love and Hate”. In 1988, he played a supporting role in “Crocodile Dundee II” and starred in an episode of the “Twilight Zone” revival.
Welsh was cast as Windom Earle, one of the central villains of the second season of “Twin Peaks” in 1990. The former partner and mentor of main character Dale Cooper’s (Kyle MacLachlan) special agent, Earle went insane and murdered his wife. After escaping captivity, he traveled to the titular city of Twin Peaks in hopes of unleashing the supernatural power of the Black Lodge.
Welsh had a menacing presence as Earle, who was memorable for his cruel nature and obsession with chess. The actor starred in 10 episodes of the show and was a central figure in the show’s famous ambiguous ending.
After “Twin Peaks,” Welsh began working more in the United States, although he continued to make frequent appearances in Canadian productions. He starred in shows like “The X-Files”, “Law & Order”, “Due South”, “Smallville”, “Stargate Atlantis”, “The Expanse” and “Star Trek: Discovery”.
In 2018, Welsh took on a notable recurring role on “Lodge 49,” where he played Larry Loomis, the leader of a fraternal order. He also continued to star in television films, including playing US President Harry S. Truman in two separate productions: “Hiroshima” in 1995 and “Haven” in 2001.
From 2000 to 2002, Welsh played Dr. Watson opposite Matt Frewer as Sherlock Holmes in four television films for the Hallmark Channel.
Welsh had supporting roles in theatrical films including “Timecop” and “Legends of the Fall”. In 2004, he played Dr. Hepburn, the father of Cate Blanchett’s Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. In the same year, he also played the incompetent Vice President of the United States Raymond Becker in Roland Emmerich’s disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow. At the time of the film’s release, there was some criticism over how Welsh resembled then-Vice President Dick Cheney, which Emmerich admitted was intentional.
Other notable films include “The Fog”, “The Covenant” and “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer”.
At the time of his death, Welsh had several projects in post-production.
He was scheduled to make an appearance in the Prime Video revival of the Canadian comedy series “The Kids in the Hall,” which will be released later this month. Other future roles include appearances in films like “Campton Manor”, “Midnight at the Paradise”, “Deadly Draw” and “Afterwards”.
Welsh is survived by his son, Devon Welsh, a singer and songwriter.