Donald Sutherland Biography

Donald Sutherland is a famous Canadian actor. This biography profiles his childhood, family life, acting career, achievements and timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: July 17, 1935

Nationality: Canadian

Famous: Hunger Games Cast Actors

Age: 84 Years, 84 Year Old Males

Sun Sign: Cancer

Also Known As: Donald McNichol Sutherland

Born in: Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada

Famous as: Actor

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


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

father: Frederick McLea Sutherland

mother: Dorothy Isobel (née McNicho)

children: Angus, Kiefer, Rachel, Roeg, Rossif

More Facts

education: University of Toronto, London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art

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Donald Sutherland is a renowned Canadian actor, best known for his roles in ‘The Dirty Dozen’, ‘M A SH’ and ‘Klute’. He was weak as a child but became academically competent as he grew up. Before becoming an actor he qualified as an engineer as well as acquired a degree in drama. As he matured, he chose to take up drama and abandoned engineering. He began his career with several different jobs, including that of a radio DJ, before he became a full-fledged actor. He has worked in over 200 shows and films over the past 60 odd years. He has made a lasting legacy on Hollywood; be it portraying a vicious villain, dashing hero or man with character. He is known for his towering height and macho looks. 6’ 4’’, blond hair, bold blue eyes, slender frame (more often than not supporting a beard) and an offbeat grin with a rich voice gave him the trademark that paved the way to success. Donald has five children, including the famous actor Kiefer Sutherland, from three marriages that all ended in divorce. Rachel, Kiefer’s twin sister also works in the film industry as a post-production supervisor.

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Childhood & Early Life
  • Donald Sutherland was born on 17 July 1935 in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, to Dorothy Isobel (Mc Nichol) and Frederick Mc Lea Sutherland. His mother was a math teacher and father worked in sales, managing a local utilities business.
  • He comes from a normal middle class family and has Scottish, German and English ancestry. His great grandmother was the third cousin of President Rutherford Hayes and he is also distantly related to Howard Dean, erstwhile Governor of Vermont.
  • As a child he suffered from rheumatic fever, hepatitis and poliomyelitis due to which one leg is still shorter than the other.
  • 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 and wanted to become a sculptor, but finally settled for a career in acting.
  • His first role was a minor part in a student production of Edward Albee’s ‘The Male Animal’ during his junior year in college. He was also a member of the ‘UC Follies’ comedy troupe in Toronto, Ontario.
  • He was employed on his first part time job at the age of 14 as a news correspondent for the local radio station CKBW. He undertook various jobs till he took up dramatics seriously and moved to England to join the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art from 1958 to 1960.
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  • After quitting the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Sutherland spent a year and a half with the Perth Repertory Theatre, Scotland. In the mid 1960’s he began getting 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 a break with the super hit war movie, ‘The Dirty Dozen’, in which Sutherland had a small but significant role. He thereafter left London and moved to Hollywood to further his career in the film industry. Here he played the lead role in the comedy ‘MASH’ and war movie ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ that had enormous success at the box office in 1970.
  • Throughout the 1970’s he found himself playing the lead role in a variety of movies, such as the psychological horror movie ‘Don’t Look Now’, ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ and thriller, ‘Eye of the Needle’. His offbeat style, onscreen presence, versatility and range ensured that he was not typecast.
  • He acted in ‘Klute’ in 1971 which made Jane Fonda a star for her role in the movie about a prostitute whose friend is a mysterious murderer. She won an Oscar for the same movie that was also a major landmark in the career of Sutherland.
  • ‘Ordinary People’ (1980) featured him with Robert Redford as an older father figure who has to deal with his children in an emotional drama. The movie won the Best Picture Award, with two Oscar nominations. However, Sutherland once again was overlooked by the Academy Awards committee.
  • He was instrumental in promoting the popular Canadian international television series ‘Witness to Yesterday’ by playing the role of the Montreal doctor, ‘Norman Bethune’.
  • Over the next several years he continued to appear in a number of successful films, including some unconventional roles. Unlike many of his contemporaries, age has not slowed his pace. Quoting his words, “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 major roles in a variety of films spanning over six decades. His best known performances are in war movies and thrillers.
  • Major landmark movies are; ‘The Dirty Dozen’ (1967), MASH (1970), ‘Klute’ (1971), ‘Animal House’ (1978), ‘Ordinary People’ (1980), ‘JFK’ (1991) ’Baffy the Vampire Slayer’ (1992), ‘Citizen X’ (1995), ‘Space Cowboys’ (2000), ‘Path of War’ (2002), ‘The Italian Job’ (2003) and ‘The Eagle’ (2011).
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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 names like Christopher Lee, Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Al Pacino, Marlon Brando and many more.
  • He has been nominated for seven Golden Globe awards and won two for his supporting role in the HBO television movies, ’Citizen X’ (1995), for which he also bagged an Emmy Award and ‘Path of War’(2002).
  • His country of origin has honoured him by making him an ‘Officer on the Order of Canada’ in 1978 and included his name in Canada’s Walk of Fame in the year 2000. He was also included in the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ in 2011.
  • He has been bestowed with an Honorary Doctor of Arts by the Middlebury College, Vermont, USA.
  • He also has the 4th Genie Award for Best Actor in ‘Threshold’, Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor in ‘Without Limits’ and Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievements to his credit.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • He met his first wife, Lois Hardwick, while he was at Victoria College, University of Toronto. They got married in 1959 and divorced seven years later, without any children.
  • After his first divorce he married actress Shirley Douglas in 1966. The marriage lasted four years and he had twin children, Kiefer and Rachel, from his second wife.
  • 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 had a chequered career in films where he once turned down a role in the movie ‘The Sweet Hereafter’ because the salary was too low. The part eventually went to Ian Holm.
  • He even took on a dubbed (uncredited) role for William Devlin in the film ‘The Shuttered Room’ in 1976 and provided the mechanical voice for the eponymous ‘Brain’.
  • 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 was an ardent fan of the Montreal Express baseball team and, on one occasion, even turned down all offers in order to witness the matches when it looked like the team was likely to win the finals of the National League.

1. A War Story (1981)

  (Drama, War)

2. Johnny Got His Gun (1971)

  (Drama, War)

3. The Dirty Dozen (1967)

  (Thriller, Comedy, Action, Adventure, War)

4. Ordinary People (1980)


5. Kelly's Heroes (1970)

  (Comedy, Adventure, War)

6. Novecento (1976)

  (Crime, History, Drama)

7. MASH (1970)

  (War, Drama, Comedy)

8. Pride & Prejudice (2005)

  (Romance, Drama)


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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Last Updated
- February 22, 2017
Donald Sutherland

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