Inside Kiefer Sutherland’s Relationship with His Late Dad Donald Sutherland: Pride, Love and Distance

“I want to impress him. I want him to be proud of me,” Kiefer said in 2022 about his father Donald, who died on June 20 at age 88.

When Kiefer Sutherland was two years old, his father Donald Sutherland — who died Thursday, June 20, at age 88 — remembered his son acting up.

“He ran in circles and hit his head against the wall. I told him to stop, but he said he was just trying to make me laugh,” Donald said in 1984.

Fast forward a few decades, and Kiefer, now 57, was still eager for his dad’s approval. “I want to impress him. I want him to be proud of me,” the 24 Emmy winner told the Radio Times in 2022.

Growing up, Kiefer knew his dad was a movie star, but he didn’t realize until later that the Klute and M*A*S*H actor was a major player in the industry. “I remember feeling really bad as a son that I wasn’t aware of not only how prolific my father was as an actor but what he had really contributed to the art of cinema,” he later said.

Nevertheless, Kiefer — whose mom, Canadian actress Shirley Douglas, split from the elder Sutherland when Kiefer was around 4 years old — was eager to act. At 9, Kiefer was cast in the World War II play Throne of Straw, his first taste of stardom that wasn’t connected to his parents.

But when Kiefer was around 10, Douglas moved him and his twin sister Rachel, 2,500 miles away from Los Angeles (and the heart of the entertainment industry) to Toronto, where the young boy struggled to adjust. He often traveled to L.A. to see his dad.

Kiefer told the Radio Times in 2022 that the physical space between him and his dad affected their relationship. “Having grown up with my mother, there’s a kind of distance between us,” he said.

The Sutherlands did bond over acting, and Kiefer, in a small role, appeared onscreen in his dad’s 1983 movie Max Dugan Returns. As a teen, Kiefer decided to drop out of school and focus on acting full time, landing the lead in the 1984 coming of age movie Bay Boy.

The crew invited Donald to the set to watch his son at work, but he declined. “He thought this was my turn,” Kiefer explained at the time. “I earned the spot, so I should have the light.”

Kiefer, who would go on to star in 1980s classics The Lost Boys, Stand By Me and Young Guns, was happy to claim the spotlight. “There is inevitably always going to be a point when the younger lion wants to take on the older lion,” Kiefer recalled in 2016 about the father-son dynamic from decades earlier.

The sense of playful competition continued into Kiefer’s adulthood. “I have benefitted genetically from my father who has got one of the most awesome voices of all time,” the younger Sutherland told The Guardian in 2022.

“He was doing the voiceover for these Volvo commercials and getting paid a lot more money than I originally thought. So, as a joke, I told his agent that I could do a really good Donald Sutherland for half the money. I don’t think my father thought it was very funny, but I thought it was hysterical,” he continued.

The Sutherlands shared the screen in a substantial way in 2016’s Western Forsaken, costarring Demi Moore. “Working with him is something I have wanted to do for 30 years,” Kiefer said while promoting the movie. 

Donald added that it was a “terrific” experience and praised Kiefer as a “wonderful” actor.

The Sutherlands clearly had a deep affection for each other. “I love him, though I don’t get to see him as much as I’d like to,” Kiefer told the Radio Times. “I’m so proud to have him as my father.”