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Donald Sutherland dies: Five essential roles by the Canadian acting legend

TORONTO — Donald Sutherland, the Canadian acting legend with a prolific film and TV career, has died at age 88.
Donald Sutherland arrives at the world premiere of "The Hunger Games" on Monday March 12, 2012 in Los Angeles. New Brunswick-born acting legend Sutherland has died at age 88. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Matt Sayles

TORONTO — Donald Sutherland, the Canadian acting legend with a prolific film and TV career, has died at age 88.

His son, actor Kiefer Sutherland, confirmed his death on Thursday, calling him "one of the most important actors in the history of film," in a post on the X platform.

"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," the post continued.

Here's a look at five of his most essential roles.

"MASH" (1970)

One of Sutherland's earliest breakout roles was in Robert Altman's war comedy, "MASH." He stood out with his portrayal of sardonic draftee surgeon Benjamin Franklin (Hawkeye) Pierce, who had a taste for pretty nurses, awful gin and cruel pranks. The role showcased his unique ability to blend irreverent humour and humanity, which not only captured the absurdity of war but became a trademark of his career.

"Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1978)

Sutherland gave a gripping performance in Philip Kaufman's sci-fi thriller "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" as Matthew Bennell, a San Francisco health inspector who discovers humans are being replaced by alien duplicates. A standout scene is the climactic moment when Bennell discovers the horrifying truth about his friend Elizabeth Driscoll, played by Brooke Adams. Sutherland's ability to convey escalating paranoia and dread was pivotal in creating the film's creepy atmosphere, showcasing his talent for elevating horror with a deeply human touch.

"Ordinary People" (1980)

Sutherland's role in Robert Redford's "Ordinary People" was a masterclass in restrained yet deeply emotional acting. He played Calvin Jarrett, the father of a suicidal teenager. The actor brings a quiet poignancy to a character forced to accept the disintegration of a family he fought so hard to preserve. When he eventually breaks and raises his voice at his wife Beth, played by Mary Tyler Moore, about their failing marriage, it comes as an especial shock.

"Six Degrees of Separation" (1993)

Sutherland played Flan Kittredge, an art dealer whose life is upended by a charming con artist, in Fred Schepisi's "Six Degrees of Separation." A standout scene is when Kittredge and his wife Quisa confront Paul, the con artist, in a tense and emotional exchange. Sutherland's portrayal is marked by a blend of charm, vulnerability and moral ambiguity. His ability to skillfully navigate Kittredge's shifting emotions, from bemusement to betrayal, is a testament to his talent for bringing multifaceted characters to life.

"The Hunger Games" film series (2012-2015)

As President Coriolanus Snow in "The Hunger Games" film series, Sutherland delivered a chilling and memorable performance while introducing himself to a younger generation of viewers. His portrayal of the tyrannical leader was both charismatic and menacing, capturing the essence of a dictator who maintains power through fear and manipulation. At a London press conference before the premiere of the third installment in the series, Sutherland said he signed up for the franchise “for one specific reason: so that young people will recognize their obligation to change the government."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 20, 2024.

Alex Nino Gheciu, The Canadian Press