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R.I.P. Douglas Rain, voice of HAL 9000

Photo: Jeff Goode (Getty Images)

Variety reports that Douglas Rain, the actor who memorably voiced the terrifyingly polite HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Oddysey has died at the age of 90. According to the Stratford Festival, which Rain co-founded in 1972, he died of natural causes in Stratford, Ontario.

Born in Winnipeg, Rain was a prolific screen actor, having performed in a number of Canadian TV series, including Festival and Playdate. His true passion, however, was theater, the art form in which he performed for the majority of his life. In 1972, he was nominated for a Tony Award for his role in Robert Bolt’s production of Vivat! Vivat! Regina!.


“Canadian theatre has lost one of its greatest talents and a guiding light in its development,” Stratford’s artistic director, Antoni Cimolino, said in a press release Sunday. “Douglas Rain was that rare artist: an actor deeply admired by other actors.” He performed at the esteemed festival for more than 45 years.

It’s safe to say, however, that the majority will remember Rain as the chilling synthetic voice behind deceptively simple, menace-laden lines like, “Sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Kubrick reportedly had a great deal of trouble trying to find the perfect voice for HAL. In Kate McQuiston’s book We’ll Meet Again: Musical Design in the Films of Stanley Kubrick, the author chronicled Kubrick’s joy upon finding the right actor in Rain. “I have found a narrator... I think he’s perfect, he’s got just the right amount of the Winston Hibler, the intelligent friend, the intelligent friend next door quality, with a great deal of sincerity, and yet, I think, an arresting quality.”


Baby Driver director Edgar Wright eulogized Rain on Twitter. “One of the best performances in film,” he wrote, “with just his voice.”


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Randall Colburn

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.