Today, I learned of the passing of Tony Rosato, who recently died of an apparent heart attack at age 62. While most people knew him as a comedic actor from the early days of SNL and SCTV, I’d known a different side of him. This is what I remember.
When I first moved to Toronto as a poor college grad, I quickly sought out the nearby thrift stores, including the now-closed Goodwill on Bloor Street. On Saturday afternoons, the store hosted auctions to get more money for quality items like designer clothing, collectibles and home décor, and the event would bring out a colourful crowd of regulars.
The affair felt sophisticated, even if it was in a dingy thrift store, and it was thrilling to compete for a good deal. Plus, I enjoyed having something on my otherwise empty schedule as I looked for a job. It made me feel like I belonged somewhere, and I soon became somewhat of a regular myself.
The auctioneer was a middle-aged man with a wry sense of humour who introduced himself as Tony. He was short, with graying hair that needed a cut, and kind eyes with a quiet sadness behind them. He bantered with the crowd and cracked jokes at the items on the docket, making the whole process more enjoyable, but his act usually seemed a little subdued.
As I would attend often, he would greet me with a wave or a nod, and smile like he was sincerely happy for me when I won a bid. When I’d collect my prize after the auction, he’d strike up a conversation, curious about what I studied, what kind of work I was hoping to find and how my search was going, and I shared openly. It was nice to feel someone was interested in my new journey in the city. For whatever reason, I never asked much about him but from what I later found out, maybe he wouldn’t have wanted me to.
After learning from another auction attendee that Tony had been on SNL, my curiosity was piqued and I looked him up. It was hard to imagine this subdued man with a twinge of melancholy was the same person who played those zany characters, but I quickly learned he’d fallen far.
In addition to his work in comedy on SNL and SCTV, most of the articles also mentioned his struggle with mental illness and time spent prison and a mental institution for criminally harassing his wife. While I’d only known him as sweet and kind, this information made me become wary. I became less chatty with him during future auctions, even though he’d never done anything to make me uncomfortable, and I wondered if he’d caught on.
Not long after that, the auctions became a less frequent occurrence as the store was preparing to close permanently. On my last trip to the store one Saturday afternoon, I was too late: the doors were locked for good, and I never saw Tony after that.
Perhaps Tony’s work as an auctioneer was his way of holding on to a part of the showman he once was, while keeping a low profile. It seemed society had, for the most part, forgotten him, and maybe that’s what he wanted. But I’ll remember him as a kind soul who was one of the first to make me feel welcome in Toronto.
Rest in peace.