Donald Sutherland was born in 1935 to a salesman father and math teacher mother. Along with his parents and two siblings, he lived in the Canadian coastal town of Saint John, New Brunswick for the first 12 years of his life before moving to Bridgewater, Nova Scotia.

His earliest years were fraught with illness, beginning with the polio he suffered from as a toddler. “The first word I said was ‘neck,'” the actor once told Esquire. “My mother turned around and said, ‘What did he say?’ My sister said, ‘He said, ‘Neck.” My neck was killing me. That was a sign of polio. One leg’s a little shorter, but I survived.”

In addition to polio, Sutherland also contracted hepatitis and rheumatic fever as a youngster, the latter of which forced him to miss all of the fourth grade. Because he had so many bouts of illness, the actor spent a lot of his time indoors doing things like reading, and eventually developing an odd fascination with mortality. “I was somewhere between 6 and 10. I was obsessed with not knowing what happened after you were dead,” Sutherland explained to GQ. “And I sat or kneeled for a whole day with my head against the wall, trying to figure it out. But I couldn’t, and I just said, ‘Okay.’ And then it was nothingness.”

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