Shirley Jean Douglas (April 2, 1934 - April 5, 2020) was a Canadian television, film and stage actress and activist. Her acting career combined with her family name has made her recognizable in Canadian film, television and national politics.
Douglas was born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, the daughter of Irma May (née Dempsey) and Tommy Douglas (1904–86), the late Scottish-born Canadian statesman and Premier of Saskatchewan. She attended high school at Central Collegiate Institute (now closed) in Regina. She is the mother of three children: Thomas Emil Sicks from her marriage to Canadian prairie brewery heir Timothy Emil Sicks and twins Rachel Sutherland and Kiefer Sutherland from her second marriage to Canadian actor Donald Sutherland (1966–70). Douglas died on April 5, 2020 due to complications from pneumonia, 3 days after her 86th birthday.
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 is not to be confused with the child actress who appeared in Gone with the Wind, the Wizard of Oz, and Show Boat.
She continues to act; and her career since then has encompassed several memorable roles on stages in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. She has 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 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. She and her three children moved to Toronto.
As the daughter of Tommy Douglas, who brought Medicare to Canada, she has also been one of Canada's most prominent activists in favour of the publicly funded health care system over privatized care. In the Canadian federal election, 2006, Douglas campaigned on behalf of the federal New Democratic Party. In 2012, she supported Brian Topp for that party's leadership.
|1983||The Wars||Mrs. Lawson|
|1992||Passage of the Heart||Katherine Ward|
|1998||Barney's Great Adventure||Grandma|
|2000||The Law of Enclosures||Myra|
|2000||Franklin and the Green Knight||Narrator||Video|
|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"|
|1985||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 Present||Monica Logan||Episode: "Driving Under the Influence"|
|1990–1991||Street Legal||Mayor Riley||Recurring role (4 episodes)|
|1992||Road to Avonlea||Miss Cavendish||Episode: "High Society"|
|1992||The 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||Flash Gordon||(voice)||TV series|
|1996-2001||Wind at My Back||Wind at My Back||Main role (65 episodes)|
|1998||Silver Surfer||Infectia||TV series|
|1999||Shadow Lake||TV film|
|2000||A House Divided||Elizabeth Dickson||TV film|
|2001||Made in Canada||Cybill Thornbush||Episode: "Beaver Creek Commercials"|
|2002||The Christmas Shoes||Ellen Layton||TV film|
|2005||Robson Arms||Pauline Dubois||Recurring role (4 episodes)|
|2005||Corner Gas||Peg||Episode: "Trees a Crowd"|
|2006||The Path to 9/11||Madeleine Albright||TV film|
|2008||Degrassi: The Next Generation||Professor Dunwoody||Episode: "Bust a Move: Part 1"|
- (2000) Gemini Award for her performance in the 1999 TV film Shadow Lake.
- (2000) Honorary doctorate from Ryerson University
- (2000) "Diamond Award" for her volunteerism, by the Variety Club an international charity for children in need
- (2003) Order of Canada
- (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
- (2006) In November, Shirley gave an honorary lecture at Trent University
- (2009) Shirley Douglas will be 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
- Shirley Douglas: Distinguished Canadian in The Commonwealth, Vol 64, No 3 (Jun-Jul 2004)
- Canadian Women in Theatre and Dance
- The Canadian Encyclopedia