Donald Sutherland: The Hollywood Giant From Canada Who Never Vied The Oscar or US Passport

Donald Sutherland: The Hollywood Giant From Canada Who Never Vied The Oscar or US Passport

Back in 2006 on her “Wake Up with Whoopi” radio show with New York deejay Paul “Cubby” Bryant, Whoopi Goldberg wondered aloud: “How come Donald Sutherland hasn’t won an Oscar? How is that even possible?”

The two had got into an animated discussion about awards and how Hollywood’s most deserving had been overlooked for the golden statuette year after year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. 

In Sutherland’s case, he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar over a near six-decade career.

He would win an honorary one in 2017 though, some 11 years after that Whoopi-Cubby conversation. 

To some of his most ardent fans, that wasn’t redeeming enough and sounded like the Academy’s way of telling Sutherland: “Here’s the Oscar you’ve always wanted, Don; too bad you weren’t good enough for us to give it to you earlier”. 

Sutherland himself seemed less bothered by the brouhaha, telling The Canadian Press in a December 2023 interview that he hadn’t had much time to reflect on awards as he was too busy working. As for his career itself, “you know, it’s over or very nearly over,” he said. 

In another interview three months later — one of his last before his passing on June 20, 2024, at the age of 88 from what was described as a long-time illness — the Canadian-born actor also revealed why he had never applied for a US passport despite spending much of his life in Hollywood and other US cities.

“I’m a Canadian through and through. We don’t have the same sense of humor; it’s true, we don’t,” he said, referring to what separated him from the average American. 

Donald McNichol Sutherland was born on July 17, 1935 in the St John seaport city of the Canadian province New Brunswick. The son of a gas, electricity and bus company operator, he graduated in engineering and drama before leaving to perform in London’s theater. Sutherland landed his first British television roles in the early-to-mid-60s.

His breakthrough came with roles in three war movies — The Dirty Dozen (1967) and MAS*H and Kelly’s Heroes (both in 1970). 

Donald Sutherland in the three war movies that helped his breakthrough as an actor. Clockwise from left: The Dirty Dozen (1967), M*A*S*H and Kelly’s Heroes (both 1970)

Between the 70s and 80s, he starred in Klute (1971), Don’t Look Now (1973), The Day of the Locust (1975), Fellini’s Casanova (1976), 1900 (1976), Animal House (1978), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Ordinary People (1980), Eye of the Needle (1981), A Dry White Season (1989). 

Sutherland as a wartime assassin in Eye of the Needle (1981)

His crystal blue eyes and beard (which turned white with his hair in later years) became his defining look from the 90s onwards. Those and his 6′ 2″ height — more common in the NBA than in Hollywood — won him roles in Backdraft (1991), JFK (1991), Six Degrees of Separation (1993), Without Limits (1998), Space Cowboys (2000), The Italian Job (2003), and Pride & Prejudice (2005). Sutherland also portrayed President Snow in The Hunger Games franchise (2012–2015).

Sutherland in The Hunger Games franchise

On television, he starred in the HBO film Citizen X (1995), Path to War (2002) Uprising (2001), Human Trafficking (2005), Trust (2018), and The Undoing (2020).

Sutherland’s love life was similar to his career, starting uneventfully with two divorces by the time he was 35. He also had an intimate relationship at one point with Jane Fonda. Following his two divorces, he settled down for the long ride with Francine Racette, whom he married in 1972 and remained by his side till the end. His wives brought him five children, three of them actors: Kiefer, Rossif, and Angus Sutherland.

For his work, Sutherland also received numerous accolades, including a Primetime Emmy Award, two Golden Globe Awards and BAFTA Award nomination before the  Honorary Oscar in 2017.

His global star power didn’t go unnoticed in his native home, with the Canadian government conferring upon him in 1978 the Officer of the Order of Canada. He was also inducted into the Canadian Walk of Fame in 2000 and the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2011. 

To salute this extraordinary legend, has pulled up his choicest responses to questions posed by GQ in a November 2014 interview:

GQ: How do you deal with rejection? As an actor, you get 10% of the roles 

“Not very well, right? You know, after Ordinary People, I couldn’t get an audition for a year. There was one film that I wanted. Something about dancing.”

GQ: What attracted you to The Hunger Games?

“Nobody asked me to do it. I wasn’t offered it. I like to read scripts, and it captured my passion. I wrote them a letter. The role of the president had maybe a line in the script. Maybe two. Didn’t make any difference. I thought it was an incredibly important film, and I wanted to be a part of it. I thought it could wake up an electorate that had been dormant since the ’70s. I hadn’t read the books. To be truthful, I was unaware of them. But they showed my letter to the director, Gary Ross, and he thought it’d be a good idea if I did it. He wrote those wonderfully poetic scenes in the rose garden, and they formed the mind and wit of Coriolanus Snow.”

GQ: Do you think about your own mortality?

“Sure…I bought Final Exit, Derek Humphry’s book on the best way to kill yourself. I mean, I would be—I just really don’t want to leave her. [Gestures toward kitchen and his wife, Francine] And I for sure don’t want her to be dead. The word disturbs me. But I’m getting more accustomed to the idea of being dead. Because I have my mother, my father, my brother, and my sister in boxes here—they’re in the other room—and we have to put them in the ground. So that’s been a part of our occupation the past month. I like having them here, but my wife would like them in a proper place.”

“But I don’t want to give up living, because I enjoy it so much, and I love working—I don’t expect I’ll ever have to stop. But Alzheimer’s or something like that would render me pretty useless.” 

GQ: Are you solitary by nature?

“No, I don’t think so. I’m quite gregarious. I tell a lot of jokes. But I don’t go into bars.”

GQ: Were you shocked when you heard about Robin Williams?

“No. I was shocked by the way he did it, because, you know—I mean, look at his face in those recent interviews. I remember John Belushi. We shared a doctor, and John was coming out of the office as I was going in—snot was hanging six feet out of his nose, and I said to my doctor, “He’s going to die.” And my doctor says, “Yes. I’ve tried to get him to stop, and John just says, ’I give people pleasure, why can’t I have pleasure?’ ” But no, I wasn’t surprised. I was crushed, but not surprised. Depression is an extraordinary thing. It was different from Philip [Seymour Hoffman]. Philip, that was just… I can’t bring myself to actually speak about it.”

* Barani Krishnan was a reporter with Malaysian newspapers before going on to AFP and Reuters. He is currently a freelance writer on Wall Street and the economy. A New York resident since 2006, he launched justneverforget during the COVID-19 outbreak as a way to remotely celebrate loved ones lost during the pandemic. With his Malaysian partner Francis Nantha, Barani uses the remembrance site to write obituaries on both celebrities and ordinary people with extraordinary lives.


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