Monday, August 31, 2015
On January 24th, the skating world lost a great icon, artist, and personality. Toller Cranston, world-renown for his flair, drama, sharp wit, keen insights, and avante-garde artistic ability, passed away at age 65, presumably from a heart attack,
Cranston passed away the evening of the men's freeskate at the Canadian National Championships. News of his passing traveled to the U.S. and was announced during the television coverage of the U.S. National Championships. Scott Hamilton, 1984 Olympic Champion, who had grown up watching Cranston skate, and had subsequently toured with him on Stars on Ice, told the world that upon hearing the news, his "heart was broken."
I, too, was moved by the news of Cranston's passing. Though I was not alive during his competitive career, and had limited access to his skating while growing up (before the days of Youtube!), I do vividly remember seeing a clip of Cranston's Olympic performance on my Magic Memories on Ice video. I remember being intrigued. Cranston was always a mystery to me, but soon I started cracking into the mystery, and couldn't get enough.
When I was a senior in high school, Cranston's book, Ice Cream--Thirty of the Most Interesting Skaters in History, co-written with Martha Lowder Kimball, came out. I believe I received it for Christmas. I had no idea what to expect, given that I knew nothing of Cranston's personality and had a limited understanding of the scope of his skating expertise. My sister got to it before I did. My sister could not stop raving about the book. She talked so much about how witty Toller's comments were, how humorous his anecdotes were, how much knowledge he shared about the sport and its many unique and misunderstood athletes. I couldn't wait to read it, and when I did, my expectations were exceeded. (I absolutely LOVE the book Ice Cream and highly recommend it to any skating fan, or just anyone, in general, who enjoys a really interesting and funny anecdotal read).
From that point, I quickly read all the other Toller books that I could get my hands on (Zero Tollerance,and When Hell Freezes Over, Should I Bring My Skates being two of them), and was equally fascinated by his commentary and his very unorthodox skating career--and life. I became a huge fan of Toller the personality. I devoured his opinions and commentaries.
Toller faded a bit into obscurity in the last decade or so, primarily by choice, as he enjoyed his life of quiet solitude in San Miguel, Mexico, where he passed away.
Gone from sight, but not from our hearts. Toller never reached the heights in the sport that he dreamed of, yet still claimed 6-Canadian titles, one World bronze medal, and an Olympic bronze in 1976. But it's his other contributions, such as passionately pushing the limits to go where no artist had ever gone before on the ice, bringing a theatrical spirit and heart into every show, and sharing his beautiful gift for painting with the world, that will truly make us never forget.
In an interview with Daily Xtra, Debbie Wilkes, a former Canadian pairs skater, said this about Toller:
"He was brave, and determined, and would not compromise, in any way, and it was great for skating."
Toller's 1975 Skate Canada short program. As the caption reads: "Toller at his virtuostic best!"
Toller's 1976 Olympic Freeskate: