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Canadian actor Kenneth Mitchell, who continued working after ALS diagnosis, dead at 49 | CBC News

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Toronto actor Kenneth Mitchell who found consistent work in television and film, even after a 2018 diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), has died. He was 49.

Mitchell’s family said in a post on his Instagram account that the actor from Star Trek: Discovery and Jericho died on Saturday.

“For five and a half years, Ken faced a series of awful challenges from ALS. And in truest Ken fashion, he managed to rise above each one with grace and commitment, to living a full and joyous life in each moment,” the statement read. “He lived by the principles that each day is a gift and we never walk alone.”

After experiencing health problems and wondering if he shared his mother’s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, Mitchell was told in August 2018 he was suffering from ALS.

Mitchell told People Magazine in 2020 it was a moment of “complete disbelief,” and like “watching that scene where someone is being told that they have a terminal illness.” 

Also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, after the 1930s New York Yankees star, the disease destroys nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord needed to walk, talk, swallow and, eventually, breathe. Most people suffering with ALS die within a few years of diagnosis.

By the year following his diagnosis, he was using a wheelchair. In Star Trek: Discovery, he portrayed Aurellio, a scientist who uses a hovercraft wheelchair, and in the Hulu series The Old Man starring Jeff Bridges and John Lithgow, he played an FBI agent who uses a wheelchair.

Mitchell told People it was “empowering” to be able to continue to work.

“Although it feels more challenging, people are accommodating and making it work,” he said. “They do it in a way that they don’t ever make me feel like I’m dragging things out or a hindrance or anything.”

In addition, a 2022 episode of Star Trek: Discovery featured a USS Mitchell spacecraft named in his honour.

Didn’t originally pursue acting

Mitchell’s path to the screen was unlikely, as he told the Guelph Mercury in 2004. After attending Earl Haig Secondary School in Toronto, he attended the University of Guelph for landscape architecture studies. After finding work in Guelph and Toronto after university, a friend introduced him to an agent.

After appearing in commercials and an independent productions, one of Mitchell’s first career breaks was in a recurring role in the Showtime series Leap Year and Odyssey 5, which were both shot in Canada.

Kenneth Mitchell is shown at an industry event in Los Angeles on July 1, 2015. (Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images)

Along with guest spots on shows like Grey’s Anatomy and CSI: Miami and a small but pivotal role as one of the last players cut on the storied 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team in the film Miracle, he also landed a supporting role in the Colin Farrell-led The Recruit.

By that point, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue work.

“I was blessed to start in Toronto, build up my legs and a body of work,” he told the Guelph Mercury. “But to achieve what I want in this business, the best place to be is out here.”

He landed a role as a series regular in the post-apocalyptic CBS drama Jericho portraying Eric Green, the brother of the lead character played by Skeet Ulrich. The series was cancelled after one season, but after a campaign from devoted fans it returned for a limited run to wind up its storylines.

“You will never ever be forgotten!! You are embedded in the hearts and minds of so many,” Ulrich posted on social media on Sunday. “You will always be an inspiration! All my love to you and your beautiful family.”

Mitchell’s work continued apace after Jericho, with featured or recurring roles in series Switched at Birth, The Astronaut Wives Club, Nancy Drew and Frequency, as well as a part on the big screen in Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson.

“Thank you for being a beautiful light on this earth. Rest in peace,” actress Lea Thompson, who worked with Mitchell on Switched at Birth, posted on Instagram on Sunday.

One of Mitchell’s last social media posts was on the five-year anniversary of his ALS diagnosis, in August.

“I’m so thankful to have this day in front of me,” he posted. “It’s been a long 5 years. So much lost, so much gained. Incredibly hard times, mixed with so many more blessings.”

Mitchell is survived by his wife, the American actress Susan May Pratt, daughter Lilah and son Kallum.

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