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Post: Donald Sutherland dead: Legendary Canadian actor dies at 88



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Donald Sutherland, the gravelly-voiced Canadian actor who graced both TV and movie screens, passed away Thursday in Miami from a long illness. He was 88.

Known for his easily identifiable baritone, Sutherland starred in a multitude of recognizable and memorable films, including 1980’s Ordinary People, 1991’s JFK, 1998’s Without Limits and the Hunger Games franchise. He also played the lovable Hawkeye in the movie version of M*A*S*H*. He did a lot of TV work as well, appearing on shows like Lawmen: Bass Reeves, The Simpsons, Dirty Sexy Money and Commander in Chief, among many others.

His career in the industry spanned nearly seven decades, a truly remarkable feat for a Canadian actor.

Born Donald McNichol Sutherland on July 17, 1935 in Saint John, N.B., the future thespian was a rather sickly child. He battled and overcame multiple bouts of illness, surviving polio, rheumatic fever and hepatitis. According to Biography, the first word he learned to say was “neck” because that’s where he felt his pain. As a result of the polio, one of his legs was permanently shorter than the other.

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Click to play video: 'Donald Sutherland death: Trudeau remembers ‘brilliance’ of actor’s legacy'

Donald Sutherland death: Trudeau remembers ‘brilliance’ of actor’s legacy

Donald Sutherland and wife Francine Racette, pictured in 2005.

Brad Barket / Getty Images

Armed with a perfect broadcast voice, Sutherland landed his first job (at the age of 14) as a news correspondent at a local radio station. That didn’t really lead anywhere, however, and he went on to get a degree in Engineering and Drama from the University of Toronto. Eventually, the “drama” side won him over and he left Canada for the U.K. in 1957 to pursue studies at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

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From there, he spent a year-and-a-half at the Perth Repertory Theatre in Scotland, after which he started to win roles on British TV shows and movies.

“My first offer ever for a film was in 1962,” Sutherland said to GQ magazine. “I auditioned for the producer, the writer, the director. And I came home and said to my first wife, ‘I thought it went OK.’ You never want to say you did well before you know anything. The next morning they were all on the phone saying how wonderful the audition had been. And then the producer said, ‘We loved you so much, we wanted to explain why we weren’t casting you. We’ve always thought of this as a guy-next-door sort of character and we don’t think you look like you’ve ever lived next-door to anybody.’”

Click to play video: 'Donald Sutherland honoured with Order of Canada'

Donald Sutherland honoured with Order of Canada

After a semi-breakthrough in the U.K. production of The Dirty Dozen, Sutherland made his way to Hollywood in 1968.

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One of his first (and most notable) roles once back on North American soil was the lead of M*A*S*H* the movie (1970).

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“I remember going up to the theatre in New York at 11 a.m. on the first day M*A*S*H opened,” Sutherland said to Esquire. “These were the days before advertising, and the only word of mouth was from one screening in San Francisco two months earlier. We went to the theatre early to see if it was going to sell any tickets. The line was twice around the block.”

As Hawkeye, Sutherland was front-and-centre, and it helped lead to another “war” role, this time as tank commander Oddball in Kelly’s Heroes. (Sutherland’s M*A*S*H* character was recast on TV with Alan Alda.)

Throughout the ‘70s, Sutherland’s career trajectory only went up. The combination of his voice, his height (6’4’’) and his versatility helped him secure a variety of different projects without being typecast to a certain genre. He was one of the leads in dozens of productions like The Eagle Has Landed (1976), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) and Federico Fellini’s Casanova (1976), all very dissimilar from one another.

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Things were a bit quieter for the star through the mid-to-late ‘80s, but he was still appearing in at least one production a year. By the time the ‘90s rolled around, he was back into big-name movies like 1991’s Backdraft and JFK, 1993’s Six Degrees of Separation and 1995’s Outbreak.

Age didn’t slow Sutherland down in the 2000s either; recent moviegoing audiences probably know him best as President Snow in The Hunger Games franchise, but he’s been in many films since the turn of the century. Among them are Cold Mountain and The Italian Job remake, both released in 2003. As of 2016, he worked in more than 150 movies.

Donald Sutherland as President Snow in ‘The Hunger Games.’.


“I’m going to be working until I’m helping them with the shovel,” he said.

He provided voiceovers and narration for TV commercials during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, and was also one of the flag bearers for Canada at the Opening Ceremony. An internationally respected actor, he was also a member of the main competition jury at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.

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Sutherland was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1978 and was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2000. He got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2011.

Though he never won an Academy Award officially, he won an Honorary Oscar in 2017 for all of his work in the business. He is a two-time Golden Globe winner, once for his performance on Citizen X and the other for 2002’s Path to War.

And in recent years, while well into his 80s, Sutherland continues to rack up dozens of big and small screen credits, including starring alongside Brad Pitt in 2019’s Ad Astra and, most recently, eight episodes as Judge Parker in the 2023 TV miniseries Lawmen: Bass Reeves.

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Sutherland’s son, Kiefer, shared a sweet tribute to his dad on social media, saying his father “loved what he did and did what he loved.”

“I personally think one of the most important actors in the history of film.”

Sutherland leaves behind his wife, Francine Racette, Kiefer, three other sons Rossif, Angus and Roeg, and one daughter, Rachel.

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Lora Helmin

Lora Helmin

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