Douglas Rain, a Shakespeare actor who provided the eerie, calmly homicidal voice of HAL in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, has died at the age of 90.
The Canadian actor died Sunday morning, according to the Stratford Festival, where Rain spent 32 seasons acting in such roles such as Othello‘s Iago and Twelfth Night‘s Malvolio. He was also a founding member of the company. The Winnipeg-born actor had dozens of theater, film and television credits.
However, Rain’s biggest mark on pop culture was less Shakespearean, but perhaps just as much a classic: as 2001‘s HAL 9000, a sentient, rogue computer in a film written in collaboration with science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke and widely regarded as Kubrick’s masterpiece. The American Film Institute ranked HAL as the 13th greatest movie villain of all time.
Kubrick was reportedly inspired to cast Rain after viewing Universe, a 1964 animated documentary narrated by the actor.
At first, HAL, self-described as “foolproof and incapable of error,” is a sturdy member of an astronaut crew headed for Jupiter, keeping spaceship functions running smoothly and maintaining friendly if unemotional relationships with its crew mates — Dr. David Bowman, Dr. Frank Poole and three others making the journey in suspended animation.
When HAL seemingly makes an error, it leads Poole and Bowman to decide to shut the computer down. But HAL goes into self-preservation mode, leading to the deaths of all the crew except Bowman, who ultimately manages to deactivate HAL. Rain’s steady monotone making the events all the more unnerving.
As NPR’s movie critic Bob Mondello said earlier this year:
“I remember the chill of realizing HAL’s unblinking red eye could read lips. The audience learns that in a sequence that’s nonverbal, a shot from HAL’s point of view that zeroes in on the astronauts mouths because Kubrick wanted to tell the story not with words but with majestic, peripheral-vision-filling images.”
Mondello continued, “The thing that captured the audience’s imagination back then more even than a chatty computer decades before Siri and Alexa was that unnervingly, HAL had a mind of his own.”
When HAL is finally shut down — the computer famously singing “Daisy Bell” as Rain’s sonorous voice gradually fades away.
“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,” Antoni Cimolino, artistic director of the Stratford Festival, told The London Free Press.
“He will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family,” the Stratford Company said.