More awful news continues to roll in as actress and Gemini Award winner Shirley Douglas has passed away at the age of 86. The news was revealed by her son, actor Kiefer Sutherland, with a heartbreaking post on his Twitter account. “Early this morning, my mother, Shirley Douglas, passed away due to complications surrounding pneumonia,” Sutherland writes. He also adds: My mother was an extraordinary woman who led an extraordinary life. Sadly she had been battling for her health for quite some time and we, as a family, knew this day was coming.”
Born in Saskatchewan in 1934, Douglas celebrated her 86th birthday just days ago. She is the daughter of former Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas, though Shirley was drawn to performing as a young girl. She officially began working as an actress in 1950 with a role in the Dominion Drama Festival, managing to win a best actress award with her debut performance. She’d further hone her craft at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London where she graduated in 1952, going on to appear in several television and stage shows in England with her early career.
In 1962, Douglas took on one of her most memorable early roles when she appeared in the famous Stanley Kubrick movie Lolita. In the movie, she played the piano teacher Mrs. Starch. She also had a starring role as the family matriarch in the comedy series Wind at My Back, which ran between 1996 and 2001. Some of her other well-known roles include playing the titular feminist in the TV movie Nellie McClung, Mayor Riley in the Canadian legal drama Street Legal, and Grandma in the children’s movie Barney’s Great Adventure. Douglas would also provide voices for the animated shows Flash Gordon and Silver Surfer, and narrated the children’s TV series Franklin. In 2000, she won the Gemini Award for her role in the TV movie Shadow Lake.
Douglas is also famous for her activism dating back several decades, following her move to Los Angeles in the late ’60s. She was an early champion for the American Civil Rights Movement and notably spoke out against the Vietnam War. She is known for her work with the Black Panthers, leading to an arrest in 1969 for allegedly attempting to buy hand grenades for use by the group. Though Douglas professed her innocence and said she was framed, the United States government denied her work permit, essentially forcing her to leave the country and head back home to Canada with her children. More recently, Douglas had vocalized her support for Canada’s universal healthcare system, which was fitting as her late father had been the one to bring Medicare to Canada.
Douglas’ survivors include sons Thomas Sicks and Kiefer Sutherland; daughter Rachel Sutherland; and granddaughter Sarah Sutherland. We send condolences their way at this difficult time. Clearly a talented woman with a good heart, her passing brings about a great loss to the world, and she will be deeply missed. May she rest in peace. This news comes to us from Kiefer Sutherland on Twitter.