Shirley Douglas

Kiefer Sutherland mourns the loss of his mother Shirley DouglasShirley Jean Douglas OC (April 2, 1934 – April 5, 2020) was a Canadian television, film and stage actress and activist. Her acting career combined with her family name made her recognizable in Canadian film, television and national politics.

Douglas was born April 2, 1934, in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, the daughter of Irma May (née Dempsey; 1911–95) and Tommy Douglas (1904–86), the late Scottish-born Canadian statesman, Premier of Saskatchewan and the first leader of the federal New Democratic Party.[4] She attended high school at Central Collegiate Institute (now closed) in Regina. Douglas attended the Banff School of Fine Arts at the age of 16.

Douglas's acting career began in 1950 with a role in the Regina Little Theatre entry at the Dominion Drama Festival,[5] where she won the best actress award. In 1952 Shirley graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and stayed in England for several years, performing for theatre and television, before returning to Canada in 1957.

She continued to act; and her career encompassed several memorable roles on stages in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. She portrayed prominent feminist Nellie McClung, family matriarch and business woman May Bailey in the television series Wind at My Back, Hagar Shipley in Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel, and even characters in popular science fiction series like The Silver Surfer and Flash Gordon. In 1997, Douglas appeared on stage with her son Kiefer Sutherland at the Royal Alexandra Theatre and at the National Arts Centre in The Glass Menagerie. In 2000, she performed on stage in The Vagina Monologues. In 2006, she portrayed former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in the ABC mini-series The Path to 9/11.

In 2003, for her contributions to the performing arts, she was named an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Douglas was the mother of three children: Thomas Emil Sicks from her marriage to Canadian prairie brewery heir Timothy Emil Sicks in 1957 and twins Rachel Sutherland and Kiefer Sutherland from her second marriage to Canadian actor Donald Sutherland (1966–70).

“ 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. ”
By 2009, Douglas was in a wheelchair due to a degenerative spine condition that caused her severe pain.

Douglas moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1967 after marrying actor Donald Sutherland. She became involved in the American Civil Rights Movement, the campaign against the Vietnam War, and later on behalf of immigrants and women. She helped establish the fundraising group "Friends of the Black Panthers". In 1969, she was arrested in Los Angeles, for Conspiracy to Possess Unregistered Explosives, after she allegedly attempted to purchase hand grenades for the Black Panthers. She claimed that the FBI was trying to frame her and spent five days in jail. Subsequently, the U.S. government denied her a work permit based on this incident.  Douglas, by then divorced from Sutherland, was forced to leave the U.S. in 1977(1). She and her three children moved to Toronto. The courts eventually dismissed the case and exonerated her.

Douglas’ co-founded the first chapter in Canada of the Performing Artists for Nuclear Disarmament.[4][10]

As the daughter of Tommy Douglas, who brought Medicare to Canada, she was also one of Canada's most prominent activists in favour of the publicly funded health care system over privatized care. In the 2006 Canadian federal election, Douglas campaigned on behalf of the federal New Democratic Party. In 2012, she supported Brian Topp for that party's leadership.

Douglas died on April 5, 2020, due to complications from pneumonia, three days after her 86th birthday.


1.  Shirley Sutherland, the divorced wife of actor Donald Sutherland, was indicted (in 1971) by a federal Grand Jury in Los Angeles for supplying illegal weapons to the Black Panther Party. 

The charges against her were ultimately dismissed, but she was deported from the US as an undesirable alien, according to the only report I could find.

Further details on this entry would be welcome.


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