Douglas Rain, the Canadian actor who provided the voice to the HAL 9000 computer in Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, died Sunday at the age of 90.
The Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, which Rain co-founded in 1952, announced the actor’s death Sunday, adding that Rain died of natural causes, CTV News reports.
“Canadian theatre has lost one of its greatest talents and a guiding light in its development,” Stratford Festival’s artistic director Antoni Cimolino said in a statement. “Douglas Rain was that rare artist: an actor deeply admired by other actors.”
Kubrick cast Rain in 2001 after hearing the Canadian actor’s narration in the 1960 documentary Universe; that short film served as an influence on Kubrick during the making of 2001, and the director originally hired Rain to provide the planned narration for the sci-fi epic.
When the narration was struck from 2001 and the persona of the HAL 9000 was changed from female to male, Kubrick ultimately hired Rain to provide the voice for the homicidal computer; Rain was chosen over actors Martin Balsam and Nigel Davenport, who were deemed too American and too British respectively.
“We had some difficulty deciding exactly what HAL should sound like, and Marty just sounded a little bit too colloquially American, whereas Rain had the kind of bland mid-Atlantic accent we felt was right for the part,” Kubrick told Newsday in 1969.
Kubrick wrote of Rain’s voice in a letter to a colleague (via the New York Times), “I think he’s perfect. The voice is neither patronizing, nor is it intimidating, nor is it pompous, overly dramatic or actorish. Despite this, it is interesting.”
Rain recorded all of his HAL dialogue in a 10-hour session in the company of Kubrick. For the scene where the HAL 9000 is being disconnected and the computer serenades astronaut David Bowman (played by Keir Dullea) with the song “Daisy Bell,” Rain sang the 1892 love song over 50 times in different tempos and pitches; Kubrick ended up using the first take.
“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,” Cimolino added. “But those of us lucky enough to have worked with Douglas soon solved his riddle and discovered that at the center of his mystery lay warmth and humanity, evidenced in his care for the young members of our profession.”
Dullea previously said of Rain’s performance, “He’s the main character of the film as far as I’m concerned. It was brilliant casting. Something about his voice, it was perfect. It was unusual.”
Rain reprised the role of the HAL 9000 in the sequel 2010: The Year We Make Contact and also voiced an evil computer in Woody Allen’s 1973 sci-fi spoof Sleeper. In addition to his voice role as the HAL 9000, Rain was also nominated for a Best Performance by Featured Actor in a Play Tony Award in 1972 for his performance in Vivat! Vivat! Regina!
Filmmaker Edgar Wright tweeted after Rain’s death, “RIP Douglas Rain, the chillingly calm tones of HAL 9000 in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. One of the best performances in film, with just his voice.”