FILE – Shirley Douglas poses after receiving her ACTRA Toronto Award of Excellence at the 11th annual ACTRA awards in Toronto, Saturday February 23, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Galit Rodan

Actress-activist Shirley Douglas, daughter of medicare’s Tommy Douglas, dies

She was the mother of actor Kiefer Sutherland

Shirley Douglas, the impassioned Canadian activist and veteran actress who was mother to actor Kiefer Sutherland and daughter of medicare founder Tommy Douglas, has died.

She was 86.

Sutherland announced his mother’s death on Twitter, saying she succumbed to complications surrounding pneumonia on Sunday morning.

“My mother was an extraordinary woman who led an extraordinary life,” said Sutherland.

“Sadly she had been battling for her health for quite some time and we, as a family, knew this day was coming.”

A native of Weyburn, Sask., Douglas worked with famed directors including Stanley Kubrick (“Lolita”) and David Cronenberg (“Dead Ringers”), and won a Gemini Award for her performance in the 1999 TV film “Shadow Lake.”

She also tirelessly supported a variety of causes throughout her life, including the civil rights movement, the Black Panthers and the fight to save public health care, pioneered by her politician father.

In 1965, Douglas married Canadian actor Donald Sutherland, with whom she had two children before they divorced — twins Rachel, a production manager, and Kiefer, who became a film and TV star in his own right.

Douglas also had another son, Thomas, from a previous marriage.

In a 2009 interview with The Canadian Press, she admitted that being away from home for lengthy periods of time to pursue acting was hard on her children, but said she knew it would make her a better mother in the end.

“Our jobs, we move around a great deal … and that is the reality that my children grew up with — is being left, and not happily,” said Douglas, who used a wheelchair in recent years due to a degenerative spine condition that caused her severe pain.

“You either have to decide you’re going to be guilty about it and not do it, or that you are going to do it and that you will be, in the end — and I hate to use it as an excuse — but that you’ll be a better mother than being home bitter that you aren’t allowed out.”

Born on April 2, 1934, Douglas showed an early interest in the arts as well as politics as she journeyed on the campaign trail with her father, who became premier of Saskatchewan, a federal NDP leader and a socialist icon.

She attended the Banff School of Fine Arts and went on to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England, where she acted in theatre and TV and participated in anti-nuclear marches.

In the ’60s and ’70s, while living in California, Douglas campaigned against the Vietnam War and protested for various politicial and social causes.

She also helped to establish a fundraising group called Friends of the Black Panthers. Her support for the group brought controversy, though — she was refused a U.S. work permit and arrested in 1969 on conspiracy charges of possessing unregistered explosives. The courts eventually dismissed the case and exonerated her.

Douglas’s other activism included co-founding the first chapter in Canada of the Performing Artists for Nuclear Disarmament.

She said she never worried whether standing up for what she believed in — even in the days of the so-called Hollywood black list — would hurt her acting career.

“I think to live your life you have to live it, and if you see something that offends you morally or any other way you have to follow that and take it up,” Douglas told The Canadian Press, noting she also had support from many fellow actors and filmmakers.

“I know a lot of McCarthy-ite victims. It was hard for them but really they had no choice. And when you have no choice and you see something, it’s like if you see a child going to be run over by a car — you grab the child.

“And for me, many things that I see wrong are as obvious as grabbing a child and so what else would you do?”

Douglas, who lived in Toronto since ‘77, was nominated for two other Geminis: in 1998 for her leading role in the series ”Wind at My Back,” and in 1993 for starring in the film “Passage of the Heart.”

She was also an Officer of the Order of Canada, an inductee into Canada’s Walk of Fame and had an honorary doctor of fine arts degree from the University of Regina.

Her other screen credits included the film “Nellie McClung,” in which she played the title role of the famed Canadian activist. Other TV series in which she appeared included “Street Legal,” “Road to Avonlea,” “Corner Gas,” “Degrassi: The Next Generation” and “Robson Arms.”

In 1997, Douglas got to work onstage with son Kiefer in the Tennessee Williams play “The Glass Menagerie.”

Perhaps her biggest role, though, was as a champion for medicare.

Douglas would speak of the importance of a universal health-care system at virtually any opportunity and lobbied government officials and fundraised for the cause.

She was also a national spokeswoman for the Canada Health Coalition lobby group and was involved in the Toronto Health Coalition and the Friends of Medicare Toronto.

“Let us never forget that the federal government is the guardian and enforcer of the five principles of the Canada Health Act: universality, accessibility, portability, comprehensiveness and public administration,” she said in a statement on behalf of the Canadian Health Coalition during the 2011 federal election campaign.

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Canada

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Quadra Island RCMP detachment. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror.
Multiple patients involved in Quadra Island motor vehicle incident

Quadra fire, BC Ambulance and RCMP responding

Centennial Pool is one of the ‘unfortunate casualties’ of the city’s 2021 budget cuts, according to Mayor Andy Adams, but the closure does enable the city to get more work done on the facility rather than have to close it again in the future for renovations. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror
Centennial Pool could remain closed for 2021 due to lack of gaming revenue for City of Campbell River

Change room building likely to get major overhaul while the facility is closed anyway

B.C. Provincial Election candidates for the North Island riding. (Campbell River Mirror graphic)
Over 4,300 mail-in ballots returned so far in North Island district

Elections BC provides progress report before vote count

MMFN First Nation has said that it will restrict access to portion of Highway 28 that passes through the Nation’s land until a road use agreement is reached. (Black Press file photo)
Vancouver Island First Nation blocks highway access to logging trucks in Gold River

Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation restricting access for Western Forest Products pending road deal

Physical distancing signs are a common sight in B.C. stores and businesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS
272 more COVID-19 cases for B.C., outbreak at oil sands project

Three new health care outbreaks, three declared over

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Police service dog Herc helped RCMP locate and arrest suspects in the Ladysmith area on Oct. 23, 2020, related to a stolen vehicle. (Submitted)
RCMP nab prolific property offender in Ladysmith with assist from police dog Herc

Police attempted to stop the vehicle but it fled from the area towards Chemainus.

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Most Read