Douglas Rain dead: Actor and voice of HAL 9000 in 2001 A Space Odyssey dies at 90

Canadian actor Douglas Rain — a veteran of the theater but perhaps best known for lending his voice to the artificially intelligent computer HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey — has died at the age of 90.

The Stratford Company repertory theatre collective, which Rain co-founded in 1952, announced the actor’s death Sunday evening. Local news reported the actor died of natural causes at St. Marys Memorial Hospital just outside Stratford, Ontario.

After rising to prominence on the stage in various Shakespearean roles, the Winnipeg native was hired by Kubrick to voice the on-board computer system guiding Dr. David Bowman (Keir Dullea) through space as a replacement for Oscar-winning actor Martin Balsam, whose take on the character Kubrick ultimately found too “colloquially American” in the finished product. After hearing Rain narrate a 1960 documentary titled Universe — which the filmmaker reportedly watched nearly 100 times — he sought the performer for the project.

In addition to his work on 2001 (and its Peter Hyams-directed 1984 sequel 2010: The Year We Made Contact), Rain spent 32 seasons performing on stage as part of the Stratford Company in nearly 80 productions between 1953 and 1998. In 1972, he received a Tony nomination for his supporting work in Vivat! Vivat Regina! 

Born in 1928, Rain later attended the University of Manitoba and studied acting at Alberta’s Banff School of Fine Arts. He subsequently honed his craft over a two-year apprenticeship at the Old Vic theatre school in London en route to tackling a variety of Shakespearean roles throughout his career including the titular part in Henry V (later adapted for TV in 1966), Iago in Othello, Ulysses in Troilus and Cressida, and Malvolio in Twelfth Night. 

“Canadian theater has lost one of its greatest talents and a guiding light in its development,” festival artistic director Antoni Cimolino told The Hollywood Reporter of Rain’s death, adding that the company’s upcoming production of Othello will be dedicated to his memory. “Douglas Rain was that rare artist — an actor deeply admired by other actors. The voice of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Douglas shared many of the same qualities as Kubrick’s iconic creation — precision, strength of steel, enigma and infinite intelligence, as well as a wicked sense of humor.”

Previously married to Canadian actress Martha Henry, Rain is survived by three children: sons David and Adam, daughter, Emma, and granddaughter Salima.

2001: A Space Odyssey

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