Donald Sutherland, whose career spanned MASH to Hunger Games, dies aged 88

Son Kiefer Sutherland pays tribute to a father who ‘loved what he did and did what he loved’.

Donald Sutherland, the acclaimed Canadian actor who charmed and enthralled generations of audiences in films such as MASH, Klute, and The Hunger Games, has died at the age of 88.

The actor, whose lengthy career spanned from the 1960s into the 2020s, died on Thursday, his son, actor Kiefer Sutherland, said on social media.

“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,” he wrote on X.

A tall man with a deep voice, piercing blue eyes and a mischievous smile, Donald Sutherland switched effortlessly from character roles to romantic leads opposite the likes of Jane Fonda and Julie Christie.

Among his most well-known roles was Hawkeye Pierce in Robert Altman’s MASH, set in a military field hospital during the Korean War, and a despairing father in Robert Redford’s Oscar-winning directorial debut, Ordinary People.

He won a new generation of fans with his portrayal of despotic ruler President Coriolanus Snow in The Hunger Games and its sequels. It was a part he actively sought.

“I wish I could say thank you to all of the characters that I’ve played, thank them for using their lives to inform my life,” Sutherland said in his speech accepting an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement in 2017.

‘Legend of film’

The son of a salesman and a maths teacher, Donald McNichol Sutherland was born on July 17, 1935, in St John, New Brunswick. Brought up in Nova Scotia, on Canada’s northeast coast, he performed in school productions in college and later studied acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

Donald Sutherland's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Red roses and bouquets have been placed in tribute.
Flowers laid on Sutherland’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame after his death was announced [Robyn Beck/AFP]

After small parts on British television, he made his Hollywood breakthrough as officer-impersonating psychopath Vernon Pinkley in the 1967 war film, The Dirty Dozen. MASH was released in 1970 and made Sutherland, who identified with the film’s antiwar message, a star.

Outspoken in his criticism of the Vietnam War, Sutherland teamed up with actress Jane Fonda, with whom he was in a relationship and was his co-star in Klute, to found the Free Theater Associates in 1971. Banned by the army because of their political views, they performed in venues near military bases in Southeast Asia in 1973.

Documents declassified in 2017 showed that Sutherland was on the National Security Agency’s Watch List from 1971 until 1973.

“I thought I was going to be part of a revolution that was going to change movies and its influence on people,” Sutherland told the Los Angeles Times.

Among Sutherland’s finest performances was as a detective in Alan Pakula’s Klute, where he met Fonda, and alongside Julie Christie as a grieving couple in Nicolas Roeg’s psychological horror film, Don’t Look Now.

Tributes poured in after his death was announced on Thursday.

Ron Howard, who directed Sutherland in Backdraft, called him “one of the most intelligent, interesting and engrossing film actors of all time”.

British actress Helen Mirren, who starred with Sutherland in 2017’s The Leisure Seeker described him as a “legend of film” and a colleague who became a friend.

“He had a wonderful enquiring brain, and a great knowledge on a wide variety of subjects,” she was quoted as saying by Variety. “He combined this great intelligence with a deep sensitivity, and with a seriousness about his profession as an actor,”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking to reporters in Nova Scotia, said Sutherland “was a man with a strong presence, a brilliance in his craft and truly, truly a great Canadian artist”.

Sutherland won an Emmy, two Golden Globes and a BAFTA. He was married three times and had five children, including Kiefer. His memoir, Made Up, But Still True, is due out in November.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies