His name is barely remembered today, but in the late 60s and 70s, he racked up an impressive film resume, in both leading and supporting roles. In his native Canada, he was playing Romeo to Genevieve Bujold's Juliet on live television when Universal Studios spotted him and brought him to Hollywood. He had angular good looks and an ability to make the antihero, which was a popular fixture in films at the time, accessible. After some TV appearances (The Virginian, The Doomsday Flight) he graduated to the big screen with a role in Gunfight in Abeline, opposite those titans of the Western Genre, Bobby Darin and Leslie Nielsen.
The Flim-Flam Man, playing apprentice to George C. Scott, put him on the map. He followed up with appearances in Journey to Shiloh, opposite James Caan, and The Sweet Ride, which introduced him to Jacqueline Bisset, with whom he began a longterm relationship.
He was on track to hit #1 with a bullet when he was offered the leading role in Midnight Cowboy. Universal would not release him from his contract, and the part went to Jon Voight, whose participation in the film catapulted him onto the A-List. That single decision on the part of the studio is probably the reason Michael Sarrazin's death last week went largely unnoticed; his career's trajectory was altered, and he failed to reach the upper echelons of stardom. But he continued to do strong work for a while, including a starring role in one of the most atmospheric films of the late 60s, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, opposite Jane Fonda in the role which convinced everybody she was an actress with serious chops. Well, she's actually not, but that's not the purpose of this obit, is it? In the early 70s, Sarrazin gave a well-received performance as the monster in the TV film Frankenstein: The True Story, and played opposite James Coburn in Harry In Your Pocket. He played Barbra Streisand's husband in For Pete's Sake and gave a brooding, sexy performance in the horror flick The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, which received lukewarm reception from the critics in 1975 but is now a bit of a cult classic.
By the mid-70s, Sarrazin's career was waning, though he continued to appear in lower budgeted films throughout the 80s and 90s. His resume includes more than a few Canadian films in French, including La Florida, which was an unexpected smash in Canada in 1993, and established him as an aging film Lothario in his 60s. He died from cancer last week.
What a career this guy had! When he died in March, at the age of 96, he had amassed over 150 film and television appearances, as well as winning a Tony in 1979 for Alan Ayckbourn's Bedroom Farce (he received a second Tony nomination a decade later for Breaking the Code.) His screen roles, stretched over a 60 year period, were sometimes highbrow, sometimes low budget. He relished being a supporting player, saying "You don’t have the responsibility of a star, you’re not as expensive as a star, and you get lovely parts. " He was one of the murderers of John Gielgud's Clarence in Olivier's Richard III, and played the Duke of Norfolk in Keith Michell's Henry VIII and His Six Wives. The Dresser, Out of Africa, Women in Love, and The Age of Innocence were just a sampling of his work. He spent some time in horror films as well, including Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, Phantom of the Opera, The Boys from Brazil, and The Legend of Hell House. His television roles were just as varied. He is particularly remembered for two recurring appearances on Doctor Who: "The Arc of Infinity" and "The Celestial Toymaker" (in which he had the title role).
He appeared as Dr. Armstrong, the villainous techno-geek-in-a-wheelchair, in the now-classic episode of The Avengers, "The Cybernauts."
If he achieved international renown, it was for his appearances in the Tim Burton reconsideration of the Batman franchise, in which he played faithful butler Alfred. He was one of only two actors to appear in all four films of that series (Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon was the other, go here for Pat's obit), and it cemented a professional working relationship with Burton. He also appeared in Burton's Sleepy Hollow and Corpse Bride, and in 2010, he was persuaded to come out of retirement to voice the Dodo Bird in Burton's Alice in Wonderland.
It was to be Gough's final performance.
He may have been the most famous polar bear in history, he was certainly the most photographed. Born in captivity at the Berlin zoo, he was rejected by his mother, that sow, and was nurtured by the zoo staff. His early life was fully documented on film and he became the star attraction at the zoo. His sudden death at the age of 4 last month was a sad surprise, as he had exhibited no symptoms of illness and was barely a teenager in Bear Years (polars live to about 18 in the wild, but in captivity, they live well into their 30s. In fact, one bear lived to the age of 47 in a Winnipeg zoo, so long that she had to be euthanized). An autopsy revealed some brain abnormalities in Knut, which makes it interesting to conjecture that his mother abandoned him because she knew something we didn't. At any rate, there was a huge outpouring of sorrow at his death in March, and animal rights activists insisted the poor boar had simply gone mad in captivity.
Maybe this lady had something to do with the poor guy's stress level. In researching Knut's death, I have found no mention of the incident I wrote about several years ago, when an obnoxious and stupid female human climbed into the bears' enclosure at the zoo, at feeding time. She was promptly mauled by Knut, and had to be hauled out of the water by a rope and a pulley.