Born in Saskatchewan, Douglas was the daughter of premier, Medicare founder and first federal leader of the National Democratic Party Tommy Douglas.
She began her acting career with the Regina Little Theatre company, then attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England. After graduating, she acted on stage and television in the U.K., before returning to Canada in 1957.
She continued to act in television and theatre in Canada, the United States and England, including roles in Wind at My Back, The Stone Angel and The Glass Menagerie, as well as appearances on Canadian classics like Street Legal, Corner Gas and Degrassi: The Next Generation.
Douglas received the Order of Canada in 2003 for her contributions to the performing arts. She was also awarded a star on Canada's Walk of Fame in 2004.
In addition to her acting, Douglas was a passionate activist, continuing her father's legacy of supporting publicly funded health care. In the '60s, living in Los Angeles, she was also involved in the American Civil Rights Movement and the campaign against the Vietnam War.
She helped create a fundraising group called "Friends of the Black Panthers" and was even arrested in 1969 for allegedly trying to buy hand grenades for the Black Panthers. She was subsequently denied a work visa and returned to Canada.
Douglas was also the mother to three children — Thomas Emil Sicks with her first husband Timothy Emil Sicks, and twins Kiefer Sutherland and Rachel Sutherland with her second husband Donald Sutherland (1966-70).
Her actor son shared a tribute to his mother on social media yesterday (April 5). Read it below.
A number of others — spanning the realms of entertainment and politics — have also paid their tributes to Douglas. Read some of those messages below.
Shirley Douglas was a tremendous talent, a tireless advocate, and a fearless activist who never stopped fighting for what she believed in. Her passing is a true loss for our country, and I'm sending my condolences to @RealKiefer and their entire family during this difficult time.— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) April 6, 2020
Shirley Douglas was an activist, an actor, and a great champion for protecting Medicare.— Jagmeet Singh (@theJagmeetSingh) April 5, 2020
She will be deeply missed by New Democrats everywhere.
Our condolences to her family and friends and to everyone she inspired.
Shirley Douglas wore many hats. Chief among them, was as a fierce campaigner & advocate for universal, public healthcare.— Canadian Doctors for Medicare (@CdnDrs4Medicare) April 6, 2020
Our thoughts go out to @RealKiefer & the Douglas/Sutherland family. https://t.co/QBHSlzefc2
My friend Shirley Douglas has passed away. What a pleasure it was to know her laugh. A true grand dame & a tireless activist for the health of all Canadians. pic.twitter.com/c57yAPV7eh— Rick Mercer (@rickmercer) April 5, 2020
Saddened to hear of the loss of Shirley Douglas — a champion of social justice and public health care.— Andrea Horwath (@AndreaHorwath) April 5, 2020
New Democrats and Canada owe so much to the Douglas family.
Our deepest condolences to her son @RealKiefer, her family and loved ones. https://t.co/uizsjKXA4d
We are saddened to hear of the passing of actress and activist Shirley Douglas. Shirley graced Dog River with her presence in Season 3, Ep 8 (Trees a Crowd) and also mad a guest appearance in Season 5, Ep 19 (Final Countdown). RIP.#CornerGas#CornerGasxIMDbTV pic.twitter.com/5ZGhQVAgll— Corner Gas (@CornerGas) April 5, 2020