Donald Sutherland, actor whose career spanned ‘M.A.S.H.’ to ‘Hunger Games,’ dies at 88

ap photo Actor Donald Sutherland appears at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, Calif., in 2017. Sutherland, the towering Canadian actor whose career spanned “M.A.S.H.” to “The Hunger Games,” has died at 88.

NEW YORK — Donald Sutherland, the Canadian actor whose wry, arrestingly off-kilter screen presence spanned more than half a century of films from “M.A.S.H.” to “The Hunger Games,” has died. He was 88.

Sutherland died Thursday in Miami after a long illness, according to a statement from Creative Artists Agency, which represented him.

Kiefer Sutherland said on X he believed his father was one of the most important actors in the history of film: “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 tall and gaunt Sutherland, who flashed a grin that could be sweet or diabolical, was known for offbeat characters like Hawkeye Pierce in Robert Altman’s “M.A.S.H.,” the hippie tank commander in “Kelly’s Heroes” and the stoned professor in “Animal House.”

“Donald was a giant, not only physically but as a talent,” Sutherland’s “M.A.S.H.” co-star Elliott Gould said in a statement to The Associated Press as many paid tribute. “He was also enormously kind and generous.”

Before transitioning into a long career as a respected character actor, Sutherland epitomized the unpredictable, antiestablishment cinema of the 1970s. He never stopped working, appearing in nearly 200 films and series.

Over the decades, Sutherland showed his range in more buttoned-down — but still eccentric — roles in Robert Redford’s “Ordinary People” and Oliver Stone’s “JFK.” More, recently, he starred in the “Hunger Games” films.

A memoir, “Made Up, But Still True,” is due out in November.

“I love to work. I passionately love to work,” Sutherland told Charlie Rose in 1998. “I love to feel my hand fit into the glove of some other character. I feel a huge freedom — time stops for me. I’m not as crazy as I used to be, but I’m still a little crazy.”

Born in St. John, New Brunswick, Donald McNichol Sutherland was the son of a salesman and a mathematics teacher. Raised in Nova Scotia, he was a disc jockey with his own radio station at age 14.

“When I was 13 or 14, I really thought everything I felt was wrong and dangerous, and that God was going to kill me for it,” Sutherland told The New York Times in 1981. “My father always said, ‘Keep your mouth shut, Donnie, and maybe people will think you have character.'”

Sutherland began as an engineering student at the University of Toronto but switched to English and started acting in school theatrical productions. While studying, he met Lois Hardwick, an aspiring actress. They married in 1959 but divorced seven years later.

After graduating in 1956, Sutherland attended the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art to study acting. He began appearing in West End plays and British television. After a move to Los Angeles, a series of war films changed his trajectory.

His breakthrough was “The Dirty Dozen” (1967), in which he played Vernon Pinkley, the officer-impersonating psychopath. 1970 saw the release of the World War II yarn “Kelly’s Heroes” and “M.A.S.H.,” a smash hit that catapulted Sutherland to stardom.

“There is more challenge in character roles,” Sutherland told The Washington Post in 1970. “There’s longevity. A good character actor can show a different face in every film and not bore the public.”

If Sutherland had had his way, Altman would have been fired from “M.A.S.H.” He was unhappy with the director’s unorthodox, improvisational style. But the film caught on beyond anyone’s expectations.

Sutherland identified with its anti-war message. Outspoken against the Vietnam War, he along with actress Jane Fonda and others founded the Free Theater Associates in 1971. Banned by the Army because of their political views, they performed in venues near military bases in Southeast Asia in 1973.


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