Donald Sutherland

Born: July 17, 1935;

Died: June 20, 2024.

WHEN Donald Sutherland, who has died after a long illness at the age of 88, received an Honorary Academy Award in 2017, he made a moving acceptance speech, in the course of which he said he wished he could thank “all of the characters that I’ve played, [to] thank them for using their lives to inform my life”. Given that his career spanned six decades, it would have been an exceptionally long list of disparate characters.

He appeared in some 200 films and TV shows, playing everything from the charismatic Chief Surgeon ‘Hawkeye’ Pierce in the movie version of the Korean war comedy, M*A*S*H* to President Coriolanus Snow in the Hunger Games and a composite character called Mr. X in Oliver Stone’s JFK. His other films included Don’t Look Now, Ordinary People, Pride & Prejudice, Fellini’s Casanova, 1900, National Lampoon’s Animal House, Klute and The Dirty Dozen.

He worked for such directors as Bernardo Bertolucci, Robert Aldrich, Robert Altman, Alan J. Pakula, Nicolas Roeg, Ron Howard and Robert Redford. “For me, working with these great guys was like falling in love”, he once said. “I was their lover, their beloved”.

Though he never won an Oscar he did win two Golden Globes, for Citizen X, an HBO film, and for Path to War. He also won an Emmy for the former.

Canadian actor Donald Sutherland being photographed by a Magnum photographer on the set of the film 'Eye of the Needle', Scotland, 1981. (Photo by David Farrell/Getty Images) (Image: free)

News of Sutherland’s death was announced on X/Twitter by Kiefer Sutherland, one of his four sons. “I personally think one of the most important actors in the history of film”, said Kiefer. “Never daunted by a role, good, bad or ugly. He loved what he did and did what he loved, and one can never ask for more than that. A life well lived”.

Ron Howard, who directed Sutherland snr in Backdraft, described him as ‘One of the most intelligent, interesting & engrossing film actors of all time. Incredible range, creative courage  & dedication to serving the story & the audience with supreme excellence”.

Donald Sutherland, who was born in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1935, studied at the University of Toronto, graduating in 1956 as a major in English. He learned much of his acting craft in London and served some of his apprenticeship at Perth Repertory Theatre. He forever took pride in the fact that his ancestral roots were in Scotland; one of his ancestors was reportedly a soldier named Peter Sutherland, who sailed to America from Scotland in the 1770s to fight in the Revolutionary War.

In a 2011 interview with the Daily Record he recalled being so lost in the moment while on stage at Perth that he was oblivious to everything else. "One time when I came on stage, I hit my foot and tore off my big toe nail. But I didn't feel a thing till I walked off stage and I screamed. Then I went back on stage and again I felt nothing because the adrenalin was pumping."

The Leisure Seeker with Helen MirrenThe Leisure Seeker with Helen Mirren (Image: free)

He eventually made his acting debut in a 1964 Italian Gothic horror film, Castle of the Living Dead. During the shooting he met Shirley Douglas, the woman who would become his second wife. Three years later he was one of The Dirty Dozen, a Second World War-based film.

In Klute (1971), Pakula’s taut suspense thriller, he played opposite Jane Fonda, who earned a Best Actress Oscar for her role.

In 1973 he co-starred with Julie Christie in Roeg’s paranormal thriller, Don’t Look Now - they played grieving parents who take a holiday in Venice to trying to cope with the loss of their daughter, only to be haunted by her presence at every turn.

A new generation of film fans discovered Sutherland for themselves when in 2012 he played President Snow in the first film in the hugely popular Hunger Games series. “I hadn’t even heard of the books,” he admitted, “but it became patently apparent to me that this was something. It was the first thing I’d read in years that could become a creative political stimulus for young people”.

In 2016 he played opposite his son Kiefer for the first time in a western, Forsaken.

He was always self-deprecating on the subject of his looks. He once asked his mother if he was good-looking. No, came the answer. “But your face has a lot of character”.

With Elizabeth Debicki in The Burnt Orange HeresyWith Elizabeth Debicki in The Burnt Orange Heresy (Image: free)

In 2011, interviewed by the Daily Record, he recalled the time when he had last worked in Scotland, in a war-time film called Eye Of The Needle. "We were getting a helicopter at Glasgow airport to drop us off on Mull”, he said.

”As I was walking across the runway with my dresser, I noticed this Scottish air hostess. She was pretty, wearing a hat, little jacket, black knee-high boots and short skirt. "This girl stopped in front of me and said, 'You're Donald Sutherland, aren't you? You are not nearly as ugly as you are on telly’.

"My dresser laughed so hard, he fell on the ground. I could have kicked him. And I thought, 'My God, out of the mouths of babes'."

He is survived by his wife Francine Racette; sons Roeg, Rossif, Angus, and Kiefer; daughter Rachel; and four grandchildren.