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Obituaries

Canadian actor Douglas Rain, voice of sinister computer HAL in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, dies aged 90

  • Douglas Rain’s ‘arresting’ voice impressed Stanley Kubrick, with a flat delivery that the director said evoked ‘the intelligent friend next door’
  • Rain rejected a string of commercial approaches to cash in on the famous ‘Hal’ voice, in order to protect Kubrick’s vision from exploitation
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 7:22am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 1:22pm

Douglas Rain, the Canadian actor who voiced vengeful supercomputer HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a precursor of artificial intelligence in smartphones, has died. He was 90.

According to the Stratford Festival, a repertory theatre festival of which he was a founding member, Rain died in hospital near Toronto of natural causes Sunday morning.

“Canadian theatre has lost one of its greatest talents and a guiding light in its development,” the festival’s artistic director Antoni Cimolino said in a statement.

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Rain began performing as a child actor on CBC Radio before going on to work on stage – having once understudied Alec Guinness in Richard III in Stratford – and in film, racking up more than 40 acting and voice credits from 1955 to 1995.

But, Cimolino noted, “it was as HAL that Rain made an indelible mark on popular culture.”

“Rain had deep respect for Kubrick and as a result sought to protect the voice from exploitation, declining a string of commercial requests for it over the years,” he said.

HAL is a sentient computer in the 1968 film, controlling a spaceship bound for Jupiter and interacting with its crew before eventually seeking revenge on the astronauts for plotting to shut down the malfunctioning AI.

He arguably inspired virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa in the iPhone and Google Home devices, respectively.

Kubrick had chosen Rain for the role after hearing his flat delivery in a space documentary, which he described in Kate McQuiston’s book on his filmmaking as “the intelligent friend next door quality, with a great deal of sincerity, and yet, I think, an arresting quality.”

Rain told the The New York Times he had recorded the lines without the footage, and had never seen the movie.