Michael Sarrazin, a tall, dark-eyed Canadian actor who starred opposite Jane Fonda in Sydney Pollack’s 1969 film “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”, died of cancer Sunday at a Montreal hospital, said his agent, Michael Oscars. He was 70.
Born May 22, 1940, in Quebec City, Sarrazin grew up in Montreal and began acting in high school.
Sarrazin came to Hollywood in the mid-1960s after signing a contract with Universal.
He appeared in a flurry of films beginning with the 1967 movies “Gunfight in Abilene” with Bobby Darin and “The Flim-Flam Man” starring George C. Scott.
The next year, Sarrazin starred in “The Sweet Ride” opposite Jacqueline Bisset, and they began a relationship that lasted several years.
Sarrazin was up for the part of Joe Buck in John Schlesinger’s “Midnight Cowboy” but lost it to Jon Voight when the film’s producers wouldn’t agree to Universal’s demands for borrowing Sarrazin.
As a result, he crafted his enduring film highlight as the sad-eyed farm boy Robert in “They Shoot Horses,” the gripping drama of desperate characters in a 1930s dance marathon that was nominated for nine Academy Awards.
“You could have paid me a dollar a week to work on that,” Sarrazin said in a 1994 interview with the Toronto Star. “It hits you bolt upright; I still get really intense when I watch it.
“We stayed up around the clock for three or four days.... We stayed in character. Pollack said we should work until signs of exhaustion. Fights would break out among the men; women started crying.”
Sarrazin’s later films included “Sometimes a Great Notion” (1970), “The Pursuit of Happiness” (1971), “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” (1972), “Harry in Your Pocket” (1973), “For Pete’s Sake” (1974), “The Gumball Rally” (1976) and “Joshua Then and Now” (1985).
He frequently acted on television and earned positive reviews for the 1973 TV movie “Frankenstein: The True Story.” His last role was in the 2008 TV movie “The Christmas Choir.”
He is survived by his daughters, Michelle and Catherine, and his brother, Pierre, a producer.