IN MEMORIAM: Farewell to Donald Sutherland

The Canadian actor was 88 years old. Oscar winner for lifetime achievement in 2017, he had a special relationship with Italy, having worked with directors like Fellini and Virzì.
Il Casanova di Federico Fellini - Donald Sutherland

The Canadian actor Donald Sutherland, a prodigious performer with striking blue eyes directed by some of the greatest filmmakers, unforgettable as Casanova for Federico Fellini, and a star of 1900 by Bernardo Bertolucci alongside Robert De Niro and Gérard Depardieu, died at the age of 88 today in Miami after a long illness. The announcement of the actor’s passing, known for films like The Dirty Dozen and MASH, was made by Missy Davy of the Creative Artists Agency, which represented the actor, to The Hollywood Reporter. In 2017, he received an Oscar for lifetime achievement.

Born Donald McNichol Sutherland in Saint John, New Brunswick (Canada), on July 17, 1934, he graduated with a degree in engineering from the University of Toronto in 1956 before moving to England to study acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. His experience in London theatres, where he worked regularly until his film debut in the 1964 Italian horror movie Castle of the Living Dead by Herbert Wise (Luciano Ricci) and Warren Kiefer (Lorenzo Sabatini), in which he played a double role, helped Sutherland hone his acting style with a remarkable stage presence.

After working mainly in British productions, Sutherland gained a significant role in Hollywood with The Dirty Dozen (1967) by Robert Aldrich, playing the eccentric soldier Vernon Pinkley. He found success with his portrayal of the quirky Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, a surgeon in a Korean War field hospital always ready for a prank, in MASH (1970) by Robert Altman, alongside Elliott Gould, with whom he formed an irresistibly comedic duo. This success opened up a variety of roles for Sutherland, marking his entire career with a wealth of interpretive opportunities.

Sutherland played a troubled director with an identity crisis in Alex in Wonderland (1970) by Paul Mazursky, a scrupulous and irreproachable private detective in Klute (1971) by Alan J. Pakula, an ethereal Christ in Johnny Got His Gun (1971) by Dalton Trumbo, and a paranoid English restorer with supernatural powers in the psychological thriller Don’t Look Now (1973) by Nicolas Roeg.

After reuniting with Gould for the comedy S.P.Y.S. (1974) by Irvin Kershner, Sutherland reached the peak of his career with three roles: in The Day of the Locust (1975) by John Schlesinger, he masterfully portrayed a murderer killed by a crowd after assassinating a boy; in 1900 (1976) by Bertolucci, he brilliantly played Attila, a cruel fascist in Mussolini’s Italy; and in Fellini’s Casanova (1976), he took on the role of the famous Venetian seducer with ironic melancholy.

Sutherland appeared in numerous films afterward, including Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) by Philip Kaufman, Nothing Personal (1980) by George Bloomfield, Eye of the Needle (1981) by Richard Marquand, Lost Angels (1989) by Hugh Hudson, and Lock Up (1989). His major role in the 1980s was considered to be the intense father figure in Ordinary People (1980) by Robert Redford.

The 1990s saw Sutherland as Mister X in JFK (1991) by Oliver Stone, and roles in Disclosure (1994) with Michael Douglas, The Puppet Masters (1994), Outbreak (1995) with Dustin Hoffman, winning a Golden Globe in 1995 for his role in Citizen X, and appearing in The Art of War (1999) and Instinct (1999) with Anthony Hopkins.

Among his notable later roles were: a menacing father forcing his son into a killer’s career in Panic (2000) by Henry Bromell; one of four elderly pilots called back by NASA to save Earth from a malfunctioning satellite in Space Cowboys (2000) by Clint Eastwood; Judge Rosario Saracini in Five Moons Plaza (2003) by Renzo Martinelli, about the assassination of Aldo Moro; and Reverend Monroe in Cold Mountain (2003) directed by Anthony Minghella. He appeared in Lord of War (2005), Pride & Prejudice (2006), An American Haunting (2007), and Reign Over Me (2007). From 2007 to 2009, he starred in the TV series Dirty Sexy Money, which was canceled after two seasons due to low ratings. In 2017, he starred with Helen Mirren in the drama The Leisure Seeker by Paolo Virzì, presented at the Venice Film Festival.

Donald Sutherland’s personal life remained relatively private. He was married three times: first to Lois Hardwick from 1959 to 1966, then to Shirley Douglas from 1966 to 1970, with whom he had twin children, Rachel and Kiefer Douglas, who followed in his acting footsteps, and since 1972 to actress Francine Racette, with whom he had three sons: Roeg (1974), Rossif (1978), and Angus (1979). His actor son, Kiefer Douglas, wrote on social media: “With a heavy heart, I tell you that my father, Donald Sutherland, has passed away. Personally, I consider him one of the most important actors in cinema history. Never discouraged by a role, good, bad, or ugly. He loved what he did and did what he loved, and you can never ask for more. A life well lived.”

Cinematografo, June 20, 2024


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