back to article Open the pod bay doors: Voice of HAL 9000 Douglas Rain dies at 90

Canadian actor Douglas Rain has died at the age of 90. Though hardly a household name, millions have been and continue to be haunted by Rain's cold monotone as the HAL 9000 computer in Stanley Kubrick's 1968 masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. 2001: A Space Odyssey has haunted pop culture with anxiety about rogue AIs for half …

  1. Andy Non Silver badge

    Daisy, daisy

    Give me your answer do... My mind is going I can feel it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Daisy, daisy

      A classic film I never got around to watching until last week. On Sunday evening I saw the part where Dave pulls out the memory chips and "kills" HAL then found out on Monday it was literally hours after Douglas died for real.

  2. chivo243 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    My fav sci-fi saying

    And I thought they smelled bad on the (gasp) outside!

    1. Michael Habel

      Re: My fav sci-fi saying

      Back during a time when Star Wars was real Star Wars, and not a vehicle to drive SJW values down everyones throat.

  3. Aladdin Sane

    I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I bet it was programmed to say that.

  4. Admiral Grace Hopper

    I am completely operational and all my circuits are functioning perfectly.

    His voice started and ended my working day for many years, as well as marking error events with an appropriate phrase.

  5. Geoff May (no relation)

    Thank you for a very enjoyable game.

  6. Laura Kerr

    Just what do you think you are doing, Dave?

    1. vir

      I honestly think you need to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.

      Many fond memories of downloading sound clips (no bandwidth for video, natch) of this film back in the AltaVista days and trying to get my Performa 6400/180 to do its best HAL impression. Now that we have Alexa et. al., I'm sad to say that the allure has faded.

      1. Michael Habel

        I'm sad to say that the allure has faded.

        HERESY! To be fair though Alexa is just a pretender to HAL9k though.

  7. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921

    His voice was very similar to that of Donald Pleasence in Fantastic Voyage, made a couple of years before, but he was too expensive.

  8. Down not across

    Lock confirmed on beacon Terra One. Message commencing.

  9. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    RIP Douglas

    Thanks, you made HAL real for so many of us. :-(

  10. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

    Such things have happened in the past . . .

    . . . and they have always been attributable to human error.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    The reveal

    Yes, that line in the movie where Hal9000 reveals its intent is very gripping. But IMHO, the most interesting line is when Hal is being lobotomized and says "I'm afraid." That's when it reveals itself.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: The reveal

      Yeah, it's a weird one... co-creator Arthur C Clarke had HAL's behaviour as that of a machine just acting on conflicting orders ( clarified in '2010'), but HAL was recognised by the Monolith as a sentient entity by the Monoliths - or at least as a useful personality for face Bowman to relate to (2031). It's possible the Monolith was deliberately broad in its definition of sentience, though I like the idea of one machine have professional courtesy towards another!

  12. Portent


    Sad times :(

    1. Michael Habel

      Re: RIP

      IKR: First Stan Lee, and now Douglas Rain, they are all heading for the Coast.

  13. Stevie


    Oh man, I was working late one night and had to perform an operation on a Sperry mainframe that first took away, then reinstated an in-core shared resource pool. The dialogue that the command to release the BDIs brought on was so HAL-like it was damn scary, alone as I was in a big office late at night.

    It went along the lines of:

    "Are you sure you want to do that?" - "yes"

    "I will be unable to do x,y, and z if you continue. Please reconsider."

    "Daisy" was running loud and strong in my head as I typed in the confirmation order, and it took me almost a minute of paranoid re-checking my notes before I nerved myself up to do so.

  14. Mark 85

    One of the iconic voices...

    Faceless and unseen, Douglas Rain doing HAL was about as perfect as they come. The only other voice in a Science Fiction movie that comes close to perfect was James Earl Jones as Darth Vador.

    Thanks for the chilling voice of HAL, Douglas. More than a few of us were totally pulled into the movie because of your voice. Anyone else's and it probably wouldn't have worked.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: One of the iconic voices...

      With Star Wars ADR by James Earl Jones (who worked for Kubrick on Dr Strangelove) cinema lost the prospect of a badass space bastard with a Bristolian accent, though this was eventually put right by Luc Besson's casting of Tricky in the Fifth Element.

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        Re: One of the iconic voices...

        badass space bastard with a Bristolian accent

        Apparently, during filming Prowse's character was referred to as Darth Farmer.

        It was quite late in the day when Prowse found out that his voice would be replaced by that of James Earl Jones.

        1. Spazturtle Silver badge

          Re: One of the iconic voices...

          "It was quite late in the day when Prowse found out that his voice would be replaced by that of James Earl Jones."

          He only found when he was watching the premiere with his family.

          1. Aladdin Sane

            Re: One of the iconic voices...

            The force be strong with this'un.

  15. SVV

    Fun IT facts about HAL's song

    The song "Daisy Bell" is sung by HAL because Clarke heard an IBM computer sing it - at Bell Labs, hence the probable choice of song - using speech synthesis - in 1961, the first implementation of this technology!

    It was also performed by an Altair at the Homebrew Computer Club in California, after someone noticed that certain code instructions in loops created RF interference at controllable frequencies, allowing a program to be written that performed the song on an adjacent radio when run.

    Countless later homages of computers singing or playing it exist elsewhere in TV shows of a slightly geeky nature, such as Doctor Who.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Fun IT facts about HAL's song

      For an eyewitness account of the Altair, see my post from 2010.

      1. SVV

        Re: Fun IT facts about HAL's song

        Well, if you were actually there, I'm well impressed. Getting computers to do things so far outside of what they were intended to do is a huge passion of mine, and has been for about 35 years.

        As homebrew was involved, see icon.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Fun IT facts about HAL's song

          More on Daisy Daisy on an IBM in 1961. If there's any Wikipedia editors here, it could be added to the history of Speech Synthesis

    2. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: Fun IT facts about HAL's song

      someone noticed that certain code instructions in loops created RF interference at controllable frequencies,

      Even the BBC Micro used to do this. It was often possible to tell roughly what the computer was doing just by listening to the noise from the speaker; fast code (e.g. a calculating loop) would make a different noise to slow code (e.g. screen drawing) and suchlike. Often I'd be able to tell a computer was about to finish a lengthy operation because the noise changed slightly :-)


      1. PM from Hell

        Re: Fun IT facts about HAL's song

        Back in the days of big iron mainframe CPU's used to have speakers linked to the cpu's. During normal operation you'd hear a vague grumbling from the CPU telling you that all things were happy in cyber space. A good sysadmins learnt to pay a visit to the computer suite (normally next door) as soon as anything was amiss. Silent speaker = no CPU cycles and a stalled system, you might be able to bring it back to life by killing or restarting a couples of system processes. Screaming speaker - looping processor - not just heavily loaded and you need to get in and kill the looping process before it brings down the on-line systems and crashed the mainframe, don't forget it would normally take a minimum of 20 minutes to restart a mainframe but if a hard IPL was required you would be looking at 1 1/2 - 2 hours.

        I was a Consultant / Diagnostician for ICL during that period and often went on site to troubleshoot unreliable systems. All too often there was a strangely quiet mainframe because the operators didn't like the fact that the machine kept squealing at them so they had turned the speaker volume off. Turning it back up and looking for high CPU usage normally pointed me at the application causing the problem. It was then either back in the hands of the application development team or I'd perform some code analysis to point them in the right direction. Often half a day on site would resolve a performance issue which had been dogging them for several months. Another case of £5 to fix a problem and £4,995 for knowing how to identify the root cause.

        1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

          Re: Fun IT facts about HAL's song

          Back in the days of big iron mainframe CPU's used to have speakers linked to the cpu's.

          I don't remember that, but I do remember a computer room with a transistor radio hanging next to the mainframe. It was tuned so it picked up RF generated by the processor - steady white noise indicated all was well, and silence or a disrupted pattern was a telltale sign that all was not well.

        2. Stevie

          Re:I was a Consultant / Diagnostician for ICL

          I used to be fond of our 1901T's singing "weedleweedleWOOOORP" over and over during a sort. The night shift ops would sit in the OpsMan's office drinking tea and smoking* with the phone off the hook and connected to the console phone while the evening batches were running. Never had a late finish with our own blokes.

          One contract op used to like to knock off early so he would poke a metal rod through the louvers on one cabinet, cause a momentary voltage excursion and crash the machine. We caught him because he wasn't bright enough to vary the times or give it a miss every now and then. Idiot.

          * - In those days men were real men and our lungs had more tar than the road 'neath your car.

      2. Tridac

        Re: Fun IT facts about HAL's song

        Another trick is to put a-d converters onto the high and low bytes of the address bus and feed that into the X & Y inputs of a scope. Same with the 8 bit data bus and use that to intensity mod the z axis. A fair bit of hw, but interesting patterns on the screen. Useful for debugging before the whole world + dog had proper logic analysers...

    3. GrumpyOF

      Re: Fun IT facts about HAL's song

      Back in the '60s there was an IBM 1130 in the lab of the Electrical Engineering faculty at Liverpool Uni, that played YellowBird via RF. Probably not unique but it was kinda spooky back then.

  16. jake Silver badge

    Read my lips, Mr. Rain:

    Rest in piece.

  17. PPK

    So long and thanks for all the laughs...

    R.I.P. Douglas, your performance as HAL will live on a long time.

    I'm still chuffed that you helped me with one of my favourite pranks:

    1990 - my student year at a video broadcast equipment R&D group. Most of the machines were Sun workstations.

    One day, my boss (Dave) foolishly left his office without logging off. On his return an hour later, it took all of 10 seconds before he called my name and said 'what the bloody hell have you done this time?'

    Every command entered into the command line (vi, ls etc.) would result in Douglas Rain's dulcet tones - 'I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that'.

    Lovely what command aliasing can do!

  18. stiine Silver badge

    just in yime then...

    I saw the Christopher Nolan re'release on Imax this summer.

    I loved it.... but my now, my girlfriend won't ever go with me to see another movie...ever again...

    1. Long John Brass

      Re: just in yime then...

      I loved it.... but my now, my girlfriend won't ever go with me to see another movie...ever again...

      So it's win win then :)

  19. jake Silver badge

    In other news ...

    ... we've also lost Stan Lee of Marvel comics fame. Not exactly my form of escapism, but a tip of the hat and a raised glass in memory of a man who entertained more people daily for decades than most of us manage in a lifetime.

    RIP, Stan.

  20. The Central Scrutinizer

    HAL was arguably the central character of 2001,whose only physical embodiment were those somewhat threatening lenses dotted around the ship. A great performance by Douglas Rain.

    Just a moment... just a moment...

  21. Mystic Megabyte


    I saw 2001 when it was released, in Cinerama. I've never been the same since then! Mind blowing!!

  22. Clockworkseer

    I kind of feel sorry for Mr Rain (and not just because he's died.)

    He has had the misfortune to die more or less at the same time as someone significantly more famous than he is, so he'll get shoved to the back of the line.

    (see also; Farrah Fawcett/Michael Jackson, Mother Theresa/Princess Diana, Lauren Bacall/Robin Williams)

  23. Jay Lenovo

    Unexpected Fame

    Oddly, Douglas never saw the movie for which he is lauded so much praise.

    Kubrick didn't give him any context for the character of Hal, his lines were added at the last minute and took just a day and a half to finish, and after completing the work Douglas felt it was a load of rubbish.

    Douglas loved performing complex Shakespearean characters. The part of Hal was a bit too cold and simplistic for his preference, but ultimately that smooth void of creepiness worked well in the film.

    Somewhere both Douglas Rain and Alec Guinness are smirking it up as to how? they ended up best remembered as sci-fi characters.

    1. Stevie

      Re: Unexpected Fame

      I doubt Alec Guinness is smirking it up for that reason.

      He had few happy words to say about Star Wars. I rather think Doctor Lazarus was modeled in part on AG's displeasure at how far he had sunk.

      I reckon he achieves brilliance in The Ladykillers (a rare movie where the remake is as enjoyable for different reasons as the original) and Kind Hearts and Coronets. There are any number of "better" movies he has appeared in as grumpy angst-ridden Army Officers/NCOs, but he was a comedic genius and I like comedies that are clever.

  24. chivo243 Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Open the pod bay doors Hal

    Lara Means would like that...

  25. Gobhicks

    I'm really upset about this

    I guess I'll have a whisky and think things over

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