Michael Sarrazin, best known for his role as Jane Fonda's marathon-dancing partner in Sydney Pollack's 1969 drama They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, died of cancer earlier today at a Montreal hospital. Sarrazin was 70.
Less well known is that Sarrazin was offered the role of Joe Buck in John Schlesinger's Oscar-winning Midnight Cowboy. Eventually, Jon Voight became a star – and earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination – for his performance as the hick-turned-urban sex worker.
Curiously, Sarrazin was bypassed at the Oscars that year, even though fellow They Shoot Horses, Don't They? players Jane Fonda and Susannah York (who died earlier this year) were both nominated, and Gig Young was chosen as the year's Best Supporting Actor.
Sarrazin (born May 22, 1940, in Quebec City) was also effective as a young man whose life is changed after he accidentally knocks down and kills a woman in Robert Mulligan's underrated 1971 anti-establishment drama The Pursuit Happiness, co-starring Barbara Hershey. And he was a likable straight man to Barbra Streisand in Peter Yates' 1974 comedy For Pete's Sake. (Yates also died earlier this year.)
Among Sarrazin's other notable film appearances were those in Harvey Hart's The Sweet Ride (1968), playing a surfer opposite Jacqueline Bisset and Anthony Franciosa; John Huston's The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), once again with Bisset, in addition to Paul Newman and Ava Gardner; and Ted Kotcheff's 1985 film adaptation of Mordecai Richler's Joshua Then and Now.
Perhaps most notable of all of his post-They Shoot Horses work was his “prodigal” son who returns to his family of fiercely independent loggers in Paul Newman's film version of Ken Kesey's novel Sometimes a Great Notion (1971), which starred Newman, Henry Fonda, and Lee Remick.
On television, Sarrazin scored a hit by playing The Creature in Frankenstein: The True Story (1973), but his film career lost impetus as the '70s came to a close.