Renowned Actor Donald Sutherland Dead At 88

One of the most well-respected actors of his generation, Donald Sutherland, has died after a long illness (via Deadline). He was 88 years old. 

Some actors burst onto the scene out of nowhere, gaining instant recognition and fame from their first credited role. Thousands of others spend years paying their dues, slogging it out in low-profile projects while steadily upgrading their visibility, frequency of work, and pay scale.

Sutherland was one of the latter kind of actors. According to the University of Toronto, the New Brunswick-born Sutherland attended Victoria College at the University of Toronto, where he double-majored in engineering and drama. Eventually, he decided to pursue drama, and left for England to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

From there, Sutherland started the first phase of his career, which involved several months spent at Scotland's Perth Repertory Theater, according to We Are Perth, as well as small parts on various British TV shows, and bit parts in British films, including starring alongside Christopher Lee in "Castle of the Living Dead," according to IMDb.

Donald Sutherland got big thanks to war movies

Donald Sutherland's breakthrough role, and the turning point in his career, came via 1967's "The Dirty Dozen," a movie about incorrigible war criminals trained for a suicide mission.

According to Groovy History, Sutherland was a last-minute replacement for another actor who had been slated for the role of Vernon Pinkley but had to drop out. Further, a key scene in which Sutherland portrayed a general "inspecting" the troops was originally written for another character, but when the actor expressed discomfort with it, it was rewritten for Sutherland's character. That might just have been the bit of kismet Sutherland needed to become a big Hollywood star: the dark comedy in the scene led to another role in another darkly comedic war movie. Specifically, Sutherland was cast as "Hawkeye" Pierce in the 1970 antiwar comedy/drama "M*A*S*H," and then again as a hippie tank commander in "Kelly's Heroes."

Following these three roles, Sutherland was now a bankable film star at the precipice of the second phase of his career. He left England for Hollywood and would spend most of the rest of his career in the U.S.

Donald Sutherland appeared in a wide variety of roles

If any single adjective could describe the second phase of Donald Sutherland's career, it would be "eclectic." After having threaded the needle expertly when it comes to bringing comedic performances to war movies, Sutherland went on to turn in noteworthy performances in a wide variety of films. He appeared in the Venice-based psychological thriller "Don't Look Now"; in the groundbreaking sci-fi/horror "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"; and as a marijuana-smoking hippie professor in "National Lampoon's Animal House," among multiple other niche roles.

For the "Animal House" role, Sutherland actually gambled and lost, according to Business Insider. Specifically, he was offered the choice of either taking his $35,000 salary up-front or taking two percent of the box-office gross. Thinking the movie would be a flop, Sutherland went with the former offer. Of course, "Animal House" became one of the top-grossing comedies of all time, raking in tens of millions of dollars. Business Insider writer Frank Pallotta estimated that the gamble cost Sutherland $2 million in 1978 dollars — or about $10 million adjusted for inflation.

Donald Sutherland was the father of another great actor

The history of acting is filled with parents whose children followed them into the same career. There's Martin Sheen (Ramon Estevez) and his sons Charlie Sheen (Carlos Estevez) and Emilio Estevez, for example, or Henry Fonda and his kids, Peter and Jane Fonda.

Back in 1966, when Donald Sutherland was living in England and married to Shirley Douglas, Shirley gave birth to twins, Rachel and Kiefer. The latter, according to The Guardian, was named for writer and director Warren Kiefer, who had directed Donald in "Castle of the Living Dead."

Like his father, Kiefer Sutherland had to work his way into his acting career. He and Robert Downey, Jr. roomed together for a few years in L.A. while they were both trying to make it, according to Xfinity. Kiefer may have gotten just a bit of help from his dad, however, as his first credited role was in 1983's "Max Dugan Returns," in which his father also starred, according to IMDb.

Of course, Kiefer has had a lengthy career that has included high-profile work, including perhaps his best-known stint as Jack Bauer on the critically-acclaimed TV drama "24."

Donald Sutherland never actually retired from acting

Sutherland continued acting even as he became an octogenarian, turning in frequent performances in TV and film roles, as his IMDb resume clearly shows. Perhaps the biggest role in his later career, and one which introduced the versatile actor to a younger generation, was his turn as the villainous President Snow in the film adaptations of the "Hunger Games" books.

When he wasn't acting in TV and film roles, Sutherland acted in commercials as well. He also participated in the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Sutherland won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, according to IMDb, though he was nominated for no other Oscars. He won one Primetime Emmy Award, for his appearance in 1995's "Citizen X," and was nominated for one other.

Sutherland was married three times, according to Hello! Magazine, and had five children, including twins Kiefer and Rachel, and three sons with his third wife.