MONTREAL - Canadian actor Michael Sarrazin, best known for his role in "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" alongside Jane Fonda, has died. He was 70.

Sarrazin died in Montreal on Sunday surrounded by family after a battle with cancer.

The Quebec City-born Sarrazin played opposite many stars, including Paul Newman in "Sometimes a Great Notion" and George C. Scott in "The Flim-Flam Man."

He also played the monster in the 1973 TV mini-series "Frankenstein: The True Story" and in "Joshua Then and Now," which was adapted from Mordecai Richler's novel.

His brother, Pierre Sarrazin, recalled Monday how, even as a child, Michael had a wit and spontaneity that made him a local celebrity in Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grace neighbourhood.

"Michael was a very funny, entertaining boy from an early age," Sarrazin, himself a producer, said in an interview.

"People from the next neighbourhood would come over and say, 'We heard there's a very funny kid on this street.' "

By the time Michael Sarrazin, who idolized Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, was a teenager, he was a star in Montreal, according to his brother.

Nobody was surprised when Hollywood came calling, he said.

"It was a very big thing for us as a family and for the city -- for Montreal -- when it all happened for him," he said.

Sarrazin moved back to Montreal from Los Angeles a few years ago to be closer to his children.

Michael Oscars, his Toronto-based agent and friend of 27 years, said the actor's daughters, Catherine and Michelle, were at his side when he died.

Oscars said Sarrazin was a gifted conversationalist who had an amazing collection of friends.

"He had a gentleness and a sensibility about him that was very distinct and unique," he said.

"A lot of people always said that he had the most soulful eyes of any actor in Hollywood."