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Shirley Douglas

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Shirley Jean Douglas

(1934-04-02)April 2, 1934
Died April 5, 2020(2020-04-05) (aged 86)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Alma mater Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
Occupation Actress, activist
Years active 1950–2015
Spouse(s) Timothy Emil Sicks
(m. 1957; div. 19??)
(m. 1966; div. 1970)
Children 3, including Kiefer Sutherland
Parent(s) Tommy Douglas
Irma Dempsey

Shirley Jean Douglas OC (April 2, 1934 – April 5, 2020) was a Canadian actress and activist. Her acting career combined with her family name made her recognizable in Canadian film, television and national politics.

Early life

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. 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, 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 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.

Personal life and death

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


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. According to a sworn statement by FBI agents, she allegedly attempted to purchase hand grenades for the Black Panthers using a cheque from those FBI agents. As her defence, she claimed the FBI was framing her by creating a crime where none existed prior to their involvement.

Subsequently, the FBI denied her a work permit based on this allegation. Douglas, by then divorced from Sutherland, left America in 1977. 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.

As the daughter of Tommy Douglas, promoter of Medicare, she was one of Canada's activists in favour of tax-payer funded health-care instead of privatized care. In the 2006 Canadian federal election, Douglas campaigned on behalf of the federal New Democratic Party and in 2012 she supported Brian Topp for that party's leadership.



Year Title Role Notes
1955 Joe MacBeth Patsy Crime drama film directed by Ken Hughes
1962 Lolita Mrs. Starch
1983 Wars, TheThe Wars Mrs. Lawson
1988 Dead Ringers Laura
1988 Shadow Dancing Nicole
1992 Passage of the Heart Katherine Ward
1992 Shower, TheThe Shower Marie
1994 Mesmer Duchess DuBarry
1998 Barney's Great Adventure Grandma
2000 Woman Wanted Peg
2000 Law of Enclosures, TheThe Law of Enclosures Myra
2000 Franklin and the Green Knight Narrator Video


Year Title Role Notes
1955 Rheingold Theatre Molly Gaines Episode: "The Long White Line"
1978 Nellie McClung Nellie McClung TV film
1982 Hangin' In Mrs. Ricardo Episode: "Barnum and Baby"
1986 Turning to Stone Lena TV film
1986 Loose Ends Elder Seth's Wife TV film
1987 Really Weird Tales Edna Besley TV film
1989 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Monica Logan Episode: "..."
1990–1991 Street Legal Mayor Riley Recurring role (4 episodes)
1992 Road to Avonlea Miss Cavendish Episode: "High Society"
1992 Hat Squad, TheThe Hat Squad Episode: "Pilot"
1993 Shattered Trust: The Shari Karney Story Vivian Karney TV film
1995 Redwood Curtain Schyler Noyes TV film
1995 Johnny's Girl Mrs. Hardwick TV film
1996–1997 Flash Gordon Additional Voices 25 episodes
1996–2001 Wind at My Back May Bailey Main role (65 episodes)
1998 Silver Surfer Infectia (voice) Unknown episodes
1998–2000 Franklin Narrator 20 episodes
1999 Shadow Lake Margaret Richards TV film
2000 House Divided, AA House Divided Elizabeth Dickson TV film
2001 Made in Canada Cybill Thornbush Episode: "Beaver Creek Commercials"
2002 Christmas Shoes, TheThe Christmas Shoes Ellen Layton TV film
2005 Robson Arms Pauline Dubois Recurring role (4 episodes)
2005 Corner Gas Peg Episode: "Trees a Crowd"
2006 Path to 9/11, TheThe Path to 9/11 Madeleine Albright TV film
2008 Degrassi: The Next Generation Professor Dunwoody Episode: "Bust a Move: Part 2"


  • (2000) Gemini Award for her performance in the 1999 TV film Shadow Lake.
  • (2001) Honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LL.D) from Ryerson University.
  • (2000) "Diamond Award" for her volunteerism, by the Variety Club an international charity for children in need
  • (2002) Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal
  • (2003) Officer of the Order of Canada (OC) - October 24, 2003.
  • (2004) awarded a space on the Wall of Fame at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa
  • (2004) received the "Distinguished Canadian Award" by the Seniors’ Education Centre at the University of Regina, an award first presented to her father almost 20 years before
  • (2004) inducted with a star, on Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto
  • (2005) Honorary degree from Brandon University
  • (2006) In November, Shirley gave an honorary lecture at Trent University
  • (2009) Shirley Douglas was awarded the International Achievement Award at the 2009 Crystal Awards presented in Toronto by Women in Film & Television - Toronto, November 30, 2009
  • (2012) Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal – Toronto, February 28, 2012

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Shirley Douglas para niños

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