Pinsent, the youngest of six children, was born in Grand Falls, Newfoundland. His mother, Florence "Flossie" (née Cooper), was originally from Clifton, Newfoundland, and his father, Stephen Arthur Pinsent, was a papermill worker and cobbler originally from Dildo, Newfoundland. His mother was "quiet spoken" and a religious Anglican; the family was descended from immigrants from Kent and Devon in England. He was a self-described "awkward child" who suffered from rickets.
Pinsent began acting on stage in the 1940s at the age of 17. He soon took on roles in radio drama on the CBC, and later moved into television and film as well. In the early 1950s, he took a break from acting and joined the Canadian Army, serving for approximately four years as a Private in The Royal Canadian Regiment.
Pinsent's professional acting career began in 1957 at Winnipeg's Theatre 77 (later known as the Manitoba Theatre Centre) under the direction of John Hirsch. In the years that followed, he performed in many theatrical productions in Winnipeg, Toronto and at the Stratford Festival.
In the early 1960s he appeared in Scarlett Hill and The Forest Rangers. He has since become a staple of Canadian television with roles including the series Quentin Durgens, M.P., A Gift to Last (which he created), The Red Green Show, Due South, Wind at My Back and Power Play. The pilot episode of A Gift to Last was adapted for the stage by Walter Learning and Alden Nowlan and has become a perennial Canadian Christmas favourite in regional theatres across the country.
Pinsent's movie roles include The Rowdyman, Who Has Seen the Wind, John and the Missus, The Shipping News and Away from Her. He wrote the screenplays for The Rowdyman and John and the Missus. Perhaps his best known early film role was that of the President of the United States in the 1970 science fiction cult classic Colossus: The Forbin Project. He starred in a role called Horse Latitudes based upon Donald Crowhurst, now featured in Deep Water.
In 1979 he was made an officer of the Order of Canada and was promoted to Companion in 1998. In 2006, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. On March 6, 2007, it was announced that Pinsent would receive a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.
On March 8, 2007, it was publicly announced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, that Pinsent had accepted the appointment of honorary chairman of the "Building for the Future" fundraising campaign for The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum.
During the 2008, 2010 and 2011 summer periods of CBC Radio One, Pinsent presented a radio documentary series called The Late Show featuring extended obituaries of notable Canadians whom the producers believed deserved attention.
Pinsent appeared in one of Canadian director Stephen Dunn's early short films titled Life Doesn't Frighten Me, which won various awards, including the CBC Short Film Face-Off, with a cash prize of $30,000. The film also won awards at the Toronto Student Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival in 2013.
Most recently he had a guest starring role as Maurice Becker on the February 3, 2010 episode of Canadian television series Republic of Doyle. He was also a featured guest reader on Bookaboo.
He attained recent notoriety when a comedic segment of him reading dramatically from Justin Bieber's autobiography on This Hour Has 22 Minutes went viral on October 20, 2010.
His first memoir, By the Way, was published in 1992 by Stoddart Publishing. His second, Next (with George Anthony), was published in 2012 by McClelland and Stewart.
He has written seven screenplays, including: The Rowdyman and John and the Missus.
His plays include Easy Down Easy (1987) and Brass Rubbings (1989).
Pinsent married actress Charmion King in 1962, and they were married until her death on January 6, 2007 from emphysema; their daughter, Leah Pinsent, is an actress. Pinsent also has two children, Barry and Beverly Kennedy, from an earlier marriage to Irene Reid.
Pinsent is a Companion of The Order of Canada and a Fellow of The Royal Society of Canada.
In 1997, he won the Earle Grey Award for lifetime achievement in television.
Pinsent received an LL.D from the University of Prince Edward Island in 1975, and Honorary doctorates from Queen's University, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Lakehead University (2008) and the University of Windsor (2012).
Pinsent received a Governor General's Performing Arts Award in 2004, Canada's highest honour in the performing arts.
It was on July 12, 2005, in his hometown of Grand Falls-Windsor, and in honour of his 75th birthday, that the Arts & Culture Centre was renamed The Gordon Pinsent Centre for the Arts.
On September 25, 2008 at a “Newfoundland and Labrador Inspired Evening” at The Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto, the Company Theatre presented Mr. Pinsent with the inaugural Gordon Pinsent Award of Excellence.
Pinsent received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.
His acting and writing awards include:2014 - Canadian Screen Award - Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for The Grand Seduction
2013 - Canadian Screen Award - Best Performance in a Guest Role, Dramatic Series for Republic of Doyle
2008 - Genie Award - Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for Away from Her
2007 - ACTRA Award - Outstanding Male Performance for Away from Her
2004 - Banff Television Festival - Award of Excellence
2003 - ACTRA Award - Award of Excellence
1999 - Gemini Award - Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Dramatic Series for Power Play
1999 - Gemini Award - Best Writing in a Dramatic Program or Mini-Series for Win, Again!
1996 - Gemini Award - Best Performance by an Actor in a Guest Role in a Dramatic Series for Due South
1989 - Gemini Award - Best Guest Performance in a Series by an Actor or Actress for Street Legal
1987 - Genie Award - Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for John and the Missus
1980 - Genie Award - Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for Klondike Fever
1972 - Canadian Film Award - Best Performance by a Lead Actor for The Rowdyman
1968: The Thomas Crown Affair
1970: Colossus: The Forbin Project
1972: The Rowdyman
1974: The Heatwave Lasted Four Days
1974: Newman's Law
1974: Only God Knows
1976: Blackwood (narrator)
1977: Who Has Seen the Wind
1980: Klondike Fever
1981: Silence of the North
1987: John and the Missus
1989: Babar: The Movie (voice)
1990: Blood Clan
1997: Pale Saints
1997: Pippi Longstocking (1997 film) (voice)
1999: The Old Man and the Sea (voice)
2001: The Shipping News
2002: A Promise
2003: Snow on the Skeleton Key
2004: The Good Shepherd
2004: Saint Ralph
2006: Away from Her
2006: The Sparky Book (voice)
2009: The Spine (voice)
2012: Flight of the Butterflies
2013: The Grand Seduction
2013: Sex After Kids
2014: Danny (cameo)
2016: Two Lovers and a Bear
2017: The River of My Dreams (documentary)
1962-1964: Scarlett Hill
1963-1965: The Forest Rangers
1966-1969: Quentin Durgens, M.P.
1969: Adventures in Rainbow Country
1970: Hogan's Heroes (as Capt. Steiner) - s6e14
1974: The Play's The Thing
1978-1979: A Gift to Last
1984: Seeing Things
1989: Babar (as King Babar)
1991-2006: The Red Green Show
1993 Street Legal
1994-1999: Due South (as Sgt. Bob Fraser, recurring)
1996: Wind at My Back
1998: Made in Canada
1998-2000: Power Play
2009: Corner Gas (as Corky Dillems) - s06e09
2010-2012: Republic of Doyle (as Maurice Becker, recurring)
2010: Babar and the Adventures of Badou (as King Babar)
2013: Satisfaction (as Dr Faskin) - s01e04
1970: Quarantined (TV movie)
1972: Incident on a Dark Street
1979: The Suicide's Wife
1981: Escape from Iran: The Canadian Caper
1982: The Life and Times of Edwin Alonzo Boyd
1984: A Case of Libel
1984: And Miles to Go (CBC TV Movie)
1988: Two Men
1993: Bonds of Love
1993: In the Eyes of the Stranger
1995: A Vow to Kill
1996: A Holiday for Love
1999: Win, Again!
2000: Jewel On The Hill (narrator)
2001: Blind Terror
2002: The New Beachcombers
2003: Fallen Angel (TV movie)
2003: Hemingway vs Callaghan
2004: H20: The Last Prime Minister
2006: Yours, Al
2010: The Pillars of the Earth
2012: Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town
2002: At the Rim of the Carol-Singing Sea (with The Newfoundland Symphony Youth Choir)
2010: Down and Out in Upalong (with Travis Good and Greg Keelor)