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Storied city showbiz figure gave life to Rainbow Stage

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ONE of Winnipeg's most flamboyant and controversial showbiz figures has died.

Jack Shapira, best known as the producer who made Rainbow Stage a going concern, died early Monday morning at Seven Oaks Hospital, his life-long friend Harold Buchwald confirmed yesterday. Shapira would have been 77 in November.

"It was probably heart failure," said Buchwald, a retired lawyer and arts patron who was also a good friend of Izzy Asper, the CanWest Global Communications founder who died yesterday.

"Jack had been in the hospital since last April and had been going downhill since then."

Shapira was a storied entertainment figure who was a pianist, band leader, radio and TV performer and radio station owner before he rescued the foundering outdoor musical theatre company in 1966.

"He was the last of the great old-time producers," said his friend Zaz Bajon, general manager of Manitoba Theatre Centre.

"You don't see that kind of personality and flair today."

As managing director, Shapira ran Rainbow through its glory years of the '70s and '80s, gathering around him such prominent talents as musicians Bob McMullin and Glen Harrison, costume designer Ted Koral and actor Cliff Gardner.

"He did a great deal to develop musical theatre in Winnipeg," said Harrison, a retired music educator and founder of Winnipeg's Gilbert & Sullivan Society.

"He was a supporter of everyone involved."

But Shapira's professional and personal life came crashing down in early 1988 after he was charged and convicted of embezzling almost $400,000 from the theatre.

He was sentenced to 18 months in Headingley Correctional Institution in June 1988.

Shortly after he was paroled in June 1989, he was charged with conspiring to break the legs of the man who blew the whistle on him and took his Rainbow job.

He pleaded guilty to the charge of counselling to commit an assault and was sentenced to a further 16 months behind bars.

During his incarceration, his marriage to Machelle "Chickie" Shapira, also a well-known member of the arts community, broke up.

Shapira was paroled again May 1991. Saying that his crimes were the result of a lifelong battle with bipolar disorder, he lived quietly and alone for more than a decade and was often seen at local theatre openings.

"He had charisma and style, and he was very intelligent," Bajon said.

"He always made me laugh. His only flaw was being bipolar."

Born in Winnipeg, Shapira graduated from St. John's High School and attended the University of Manitoba and University of Winnipeg. He then took a diploma in TV production from New York City University.

After working in radio in Calgary and Thunder Bay, he returned to Winnipeg where he worked at CKY and CBC.

In 1962, he was part of a group that won a broadcast licence for a new radio station, CJQM, which later became CFRW. Shapira sold his interest in the station in 1965.

"Sometimes you wanted to kill him, but he gave so many people the chance to do what they wanted," Harrison said.

"He picked up Rainbow and carried it on. He helped us all."

Shapira is survived by three sons, Allan, Sidney and Jack.

The funeral is set for this afternoon at 3 at the Hebrew Sick Cemetery on McPhillips Street.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 8, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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