'They Shoot Horses, Don't They?' Star Michael Sarrazin Dies at 70

Courtesy Everett Collection
"They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"

The actor starred opposite Jane Fonda in 1969's Oscar-winning film.

Michael Sarrazin, best known for starring opposite Jane Fonda in 1969's They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? has died in Montreal after a brief battle with cancer. He was 70.

Sarrazin died Sunday surrounded by family.

In Sydney Pollack's Depression era-set Horses, which was nominated for nine Oscars and won one for supporting actor Gig Young, Fonda played a suicidal woman who heads to Hollywood and meets up with Sarrazin's character, an aspiring director. The two enter a grueling dance marathon, during which she tries to convince him to shoot her and put her out of her misery.

Among Sarrazin's other memorable roles were Irvin Kershner's 1967 con-artist movie The Flim-Flam Man, in which he played the reluctant apprentice to grifter George C. Scott, and the Paul Newman-directed 1970 film Sometimes a Great Notion, playing Newman's misunderstood half-brother.

“Michael was one of the most talented, generous and committed actors I have ever worked with," George Mihalka, who directed Sarrazin in 1993's La Florida, told the Montreal Gazette. "He never stopped surprising me with his wit, charm and, above all, his humility and simple decency."

Added his brother, Pierre Sarrazin, who produced La Florida: “He wasn’t a particularly good student. But he was a great actor. His first high school role was in The Bishop’s Candlestick, and he was very upset when he came offstage and everyone in the crowd was laughing. He thought they were laughing at him. They were laughing with him.”

Sarrazin was born Jacques Michel André Sarrazin in Quebec City in 1940 and later moved with his family to Montreal.

In 1965, Sarrazin signed with Universal, becoming one of the last actors to come up through the old studio system. After a series of small roles in TV, his film career took off with the 1967 Western Gunfight in Abilene, starring Bobby Darin and Leslie Nielsen.

He went on to land a slew of roles, including playing a Confederate soldier 1968's Journey to Shiloh, opposite Harrison Ford, and earned a Golden Globe nom for his role as a slacker surfer in 1968's The Sweet Ride. That movie also starred Jacqueline Bisset, with whom Sarrazin began a 14-year relationship. Other credits included 1972's The Life and Times of George Roy Bean and 1976's Gumball Rally.

In recent years, he primarily took on guest-starring roles in TV series. His last onscreen role was in Hallmark Channel's 2008 telefilm The Christmas Choir.

He moved to Montreal from the West Coast a decade ago to be closer to his daughters, Catherine and Michelle.