Douglas Rain, Voice of HAL 9000 in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ Dies at 90 — Here’s Why Stanley Kubrick Cast Him

Voice performances in cinema don't get more iconic than HAL 9000.

Douglas Rain, the Canadian actor and narrator best known for voicing the role of HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” has died at age 90. The Stratford Festival, which Rain co-founded in 1952, confirmed his passing. Rain died from natural causes in Stratford, Ontario.

“Canadian theatre has lost one of its greatest talents and a guiding light in its development,” the Stratford Festival artistic director Antoni Cimolino said in a press release. “Douglas Rain was that rare artist: an actor deeply admired by other actors.”

Rain voiced HAL 9000 in Kubrick’s “2001” and the sequel, “2010: The Year We Make Contact,” directed by Peter Hyams. The actor also received a Tony nomination in 1972 for his role in Robert Bolt’s production of “Vivat! Vivat! Regina!” Rain recorded his voice work on “2001” in post-production. The actor was not cast as the intelligent robot until late in production. Radio broadcaster Alistair Cooke and actor Martin Balsam were originally considered. Balsam read for the role but Kubrick thought his voice was too emotional.

As detailed by author Kate McQuiston in “We’ll Meet Again: Musical Design in the Films of Stanley Kubrick,” Kubrick sent his set assistant Ben Reyes on a mission to find the right voice actor to play HAL. Kubrick described his desired voice by writing, “I would describe the quality as being sincere, intelligent, disarming, the intelligent friend next door, the Winston Hibler/Walt Disney approach. The voice is neither patronizing, nor is it intimidating, nor is it pompous, over dramatic, or actorly. Despite this, it is interesting.”

In addition to Cooke and Balsam, others considered to voice HAL included Jason Robards, Walter Pigeon, Richard Basehart, and Jose Ferrer. Rain ultimately checked off all the boxes for Kubrick, who called Rain’s voice “perfect” for HAL because of its “arresting quality.”

Rain is being mourned on social media by the likes of Edgar Wright, who calls his work as HAL 9000 one of the best performances in film history.

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