Donald Sutherland Biography

(Canadian Actor With a Film Career Spanning Six Decades)

Birthday: July 17, 1935 (Cancer)

Born In: Saint John, Canada

Donald McNichol Sutherland is a renowned Canadian actor. He is best known for his roles in movies like ‘The Dirty Dozen,’ ‘M*A*S*H,’ and ‘Klute.’ Before becoming an actor, he qualified as an engineer and also acquired a degree in drama. He then chose to take up drama and abandoned engineering. He began his career by taking up several jobs, including that of a radio DJ, before establishing himself as a full-fledged actor. Over the course of his acting career, he has worked in more than 200 shows and films. Thanks to his versatility, he has managed to make a lasting impression on the American film industry. He has several prestigious awards under his belt, including ‘Golden Globe Awards’ and ‘Primetime Emmy Award.’ Though he has never been nominated for an ‘Academy Award,’ he was honored with an ‘Academy Honorary Award’ in 2017. He has also been inducted into the Canadian and Hollywood Walks of Fame. Donald has five children, including the famous Kiefer Sutherland, from three marriages. Rachel, Kiefer’s twin sister, also works in the film industry as a post-production supervisor. American actress Sarah Jude Sutherland of ‘Veep’ fame is his granddaughter.

Quick Facts

Canadian Celebrities Born In July

Also Known As: Donald McNichol Sutherland

Age: 88 Years, 88 Year Old Males


Spouse/Ex-: Francine Racette (m. 1972), Lois Hardwick (m. 1959–1966), Shirley Douglas (m. 1966–1970)

father: Frederick McLea Sutherland

mother: Dorothy Isobel (née McNicho)

siblings: Betty Sutherland, John Sutherland

children: Angus Sutherland, Kiefer Sutherland, Rachel Sutherland, Roeg Sutherland, Rossif Sutherland

Born Country: Canada

Quotes By Donald Sutherland Actors

Height: 6'4" (193 cm), 6'4" Males

Ancestry: English Canadian, German Canadian, Scottish Canadian

Notable Alumni: Victoria University, Toronto

More Facts

education: London Academy Of Music And Dramatic Art, Victoria University, Toronto

Childhood & Early Life

Donald Sutherland was born on 17 July 1935, in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, to Dorothy Isobel (née McNichol) and Frederick McLea Sutherland. His mother was a math teacher, while his father worked in sales.

He was born into a middle class family. He is of German, Scottish, and English ancestry. His great grandmother was the third cousin of President Rutherford Hayes. He is also distantly related to Howard Dean, erstwhile governor of Vermont.

As a child, he suffered from rheumatic fever, hepatitis, and poliomyelitis. Poliomyelitis left one of his legs shorter than the other. At the age of 14, he took up a part-time job as a news correspondent for the local radio station CKBW.

He graduated from ‘Bridgewater High School’ and went on to study at ‘Victoria College,’ University of Toronto, from where he acquired a double major in engineering and drama. He later gave up engineering to pursue a career as a sculptor, but finally settled for a career in acting.

During his junior year in college, he landed his first role in a student production of Edward Albee’s ‘The Male Animal.’ He also became a member of ‘UC Follies,’ a comedy troupe in Toronto, Ontario.

He took up various jobs before taking dramatics seriously. He then moved to England to join the ‘London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art’ where he studied from 1958 to 1960.

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After leaving the ‘London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art,’ Sutherland spent a year-and-a-half with the ‘Perth Repertory Theatre’ in Scotland. In the mid-1960s, he started receiving small roles in British films and TV shows, such as ‘The Saint’ and ‘Court Martial.’ He featured alongside Christopher Lee in the horror film ‘Castle of the Living Dead’ in 1964, and appeared in the BBC play ‘Oswald Assassin’ in 1966.

�In 1968, he got his big breakthrough with the super hit war movie ‘The Dirty Dozen’ in which Sutherland landed a small but significant role. Thereafter, he left London and moved to Hollywood to establish a career in the American film industry. Here, he played the lead role in the black comedy war film ‘M-A-S-H’ in 1970. The same year, he also appeared in the war movie ‘Kelly’s Heroes.’ ‘M*A*S*H’ became a huge success at the box office.

Throughout the 1970s, he found himself playing lead roles in a variety of movies, such as ‘Don’t Look Now,’ ‘The Eagle Has Landed,’ and ‘Eye of the Needle.’ His offbeat style, onscreen presence, and versatility ensured that he was not typecast.

He acted in ‘Klute’ in 1971. Apart from being a major landmark film in Sutherland’s career, the movie also turned Jane Fonda into a star. For her role in the movie, she won an ‘Oscar.’

‘Ordinary People’ (1980) starred him alongside Robert Redford. The movie won the ‘Best Picture Award’ from its two ‘Oscar’ nominations. However, Sutherland’s performance was once again overlooked by the ‘Academy Awards’ committee.

He was instrumental in promoting the popular Canadian television series ‘Witness to Yesterday’ in which he played the role of a Montreal doctor named ‘Norman Bethune.’

Over the next several years, he continued to appear in a number of successful films, including movies where he played unconventional roles. Unlike many of his contemporaries, age has not slowed him down. He once said, “I’m going to be working until I’m helping them with the shovel.”

Major Works

Sutherland is a versatile actor who has played supporting as well as lead roles in a variety of films. Some of his best performance has been delivered in war movies and thrillers.

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His major landmark movies are: ‘The Dirty Dozen’ (1967), ‘M-A-S-H’ (1970), ‘Klute’ (1971), ‘Animal House’ (1978), ‘Ordinary People’ (1980), ‘JFK’ (1991), ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ (1992), ‘Citizen X’ (1995), ‘Space Cowboys’ (2000), ‘Path of War’ (2002), ‘The Italian Job’ (2003), and ‘The Eagle’ (2011).

Awards & Achievements

Sutherland has co-starred with almost every known name in Hollywood in a number of blockbusters. However, he is yet to be awarded an ‘Oscar’ for his work. His co-actors include famous personalities like Christopher Lee, Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Al Pacino, and Marlon Brando among many others.

He has been nominated for many ‘Golden Globe’ awards, out of which he has won two awards for his roles in ‘Citizen X’ (1995), for which he also received an ‘Emmy Award,’ and ‘Path to War’ (2002).

Canada honored him by making him an ‘Officer of the Order of Canada’ in 1978. In the year 2000, his name was included in Canada’s Walk of Fame. He was also inducted into the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ in 2011.

He has been bestowed with an ‘Honorary Doctor of Arts’ by ‘Middlebury College,’ Vermont, USA.

He also has several other awards under his belt, including the ‘Genie Award’ for ‘Best Actor’ for ‘Threshold,’ ‘Satellite Award’ for ‘Best Supporting Actor’ for ‘Without Limits,’ and ‘Governor General’s Performing Arts Award’ for ‘Lifetime Artistic Achievement.’

In 2017, he was given the ‘Academy Honorary Award’ for his contribution to films.

Personal Life & Legacy

He met his first wife, Lois Hardwick, while studying at Victoria College,�University of Toronto. They got married in 1959, but�the marriage ended in divorce seven years later. They did not have any children together.

After divorcing Lois Hardwick, he married actress Shirley Douglas in 1966. The couple was blessed with twin children, Kiefer and Rachel. The marriage lasted four years.

In 1972, he married actress Francine Racette with whom he had three sons: Rossif, Angus, and Roeg. The marriage ended in divorce after a decade.

He had a near death experience in 1979 when he suffered from meningitis. Doctors told him that he had died for some time and he claims to have had an out of body experience.

Sutherland has had a chequered career in films so far. He once turned down a role in the movie ‘The Sweet Hereafter’ as he felt the salary was too low. The role eventually went to Ian Holm.

He dubbed (uncredited) for William Devlin in the film ‘The Shuttered Room’ in 1976. He also provided the mechanical voice on the phone in ‘Billion Dollar Brain’ (1967).

He prefers to shoot the opening scenes of his films last in order to set the tone of the movie for the audience in the best possible manner.

He supported the ‘Montreal Expos’ baseball team. On one occasion, he even turned down all offers in order to witness the matches of his favorite team in the ‘National League.’

Donald Sutherland Movies

1. A War Story (1981)

  (Drama, War)

2. The Dirty Dozen (1967)

  (Thriller, Comedy, Action, Adventure, War)

3. Johnny Got His Gun (1971)

  (Drama, War)

4. Ordinary People (1980)


5. Kelly's Heroes (1970)

  (Comedy, Adventure, War)

6. Animal House (1978)


7. MASH (1970)

  (War, Drama, Comedy)

8. Novecento (1976)

  (Crime, History, Drama)

9. Pride & Prejudice (2005)

  (Romance, Drama)

10. JFK (1991)

  (Thriller, Drama, History)


Golden Globe Awards
2003 Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television Path to War (2002)
1996 Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television Citizen X (1995)
Primetime Emmy Awards
1995 Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Special Citizen X (1995)

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