June 21, 2024 | Alumni

In memoriam: Donald Sutherland, Canadian acting legend and U of T alum

A man sitting in a cinema seat

The University of Toronto community mourns the loss of actor Donald Sutherland (BA 1958 VIC) at age 88. Sutherland graduated from Victoria College in 1958 with a dual degree in engineering and drama. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto in 1998 in recognition of his acting career and his championing of social issues.

Sutherland’s extraordinary career on stage and in television and movies spanned seven decades and more than 190 acting credits. He appeared in M*A*S*HThe Hunger GamesInvasion of the Body Snatchers and Six Degrees Of Separation, among many notable roles. His accolades included a Primetime Emmy Award, two Golden Globes, an Honorary Oscar Award, induction into Canada’s Walk of Fame and being named a companion of the Order of Canada.

Page from a yearbook with headshots and text

Born in Saint John, N.B., on July 17, 1935, Sutherland became enchanted with acting after seeing a magic show at a church when he was 10. He chose the University of Toronto because of its well-known reputation and remarkable theatre program.

Though he had never seen a theatre play prior to enrolling at Victoria College, Sutherland was a natural performer. He received excellent reviews from both the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail for his role as Stephano in a Hart House production of The Tempest. He went on to win Best Actor at the Inter-Varsity Drama Festival for his role in a 1958 Vic production of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit.

Three actors in costume on a stage
Donald Sutherland (centre) in The Tempest. Courtesy of U of T Archives. 

Margaret Atwood, who was at Victoria College at the same time as Sutherland, mourned his passing on X/Twitter. “He went to Vic in Toronto. He was a great actor even then,” she posted.

Wendy Cecil was chair of U of T’s Governing Council when Sutherland earned his honorary degree in 1998. “When he received his honorary doctorate, every woman wanted their picture taken with him,” she said. “I’ve always remembered how he started his speech. He took the podium and shouted, ‘If you smoke, stop now!’ He was a compelling orator and made an impression on everybody there.”

We extend our condolences to his family and many fans worldwide.

Originally published by Victoria University 

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