Kirk Douglas: December 9, 1916-February 5, 2020 (Image via movie still)
Kirk Douglas, one of the precious few remaining legends of his stature from the Old Hollywood era, died Wednesday, February 5, at 103.
Douglas in his debut (Image via movie still)
A family statement from his son Michael Douglas read:
It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103. To the world, he was a legend, an actor from the golden age of movies who lived well into his golden years, a humanitarian whose commitment to justice and the causes he believed in set a standard for all of us to aspire to. But to me and my brothers Joel and Peter he was simply Dad, to Catherine, a wonderful father-in-law, to his grandchildren and great grandchild their loving grandfather, and to his wife Anne, a wonderful husband. Kirk’s life was well lived, and he leaves a legacy in film that will endure for generations to come, and a history as a renowned philanthropist who worked to aid the public and bring peace to the planet. Let me end with the words I told him on his last birthday and which will always remain true. Dad- I love you so much and I am so proud to be your son.
Born on December 9, 1916, in New York, Issur Danielovitch survived a poverty-striken childhood in a large, Russian-Jewish immigrant family. He sold food to mill workers to help support his family, and was a newspaper boy. His love of acting flourished in high school, as did his gregarious nature. He was able to talk his way into a scholarship at St. Lawrence University, where he was a wrestler and worked odd jobs.
A scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (NYC), where he dated his classmate Lauren Bacall (1924-2014), who would prove instrumental in the launching of his future career.
Douglas served in WWII from 1941-1944, when he was discharged due to injury, marrying actress Diana Dill (1923-2015), with whom he had sons Michael Douglas (b. 1944) and Joel Douglas (b. 1947). The couple were wed from 1943-1951. He later (1954) married Anne Buydens (b. 1919), a refugee from Nazi Germany, to whom he would remain married until the end of his life. They had two sons, Peter (b. 1955) and Eric (1958-2004), who died of an accidental drug overdose.
Working in radio and on the stage, Douglas made an auspicious film debut in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), opposite superstar Barbara Stanwyck (1907-1990). He followed it up with Out of the Past (1947), a classic noir drama with Robert Mitchum (1917-1997) and Jane Greer (1924-2001). Playing a gangster, Douglas was electrifying.
With gorgeous Marilyn Maxwell in Champion (Image via movie still)
Soon after, Champion (1949) found him embodying a narcissistic boxer, and finally working with his ex-love Bacall. He was Oscar-nominated.
In A Letter to Three Wives, Kirk's character demonstrated the difference between feeling bad vs. feeling badly. (GIF via GIPHY)
Douglas went on to become an enduring — and bankable — leading man, known for his handsome face with its distinctive cleft chin.
As seen in The Story of Three Loves (1953) (Image via movie still)
Among his most memorable performances were those in A Letter to Three Wives (1949), Young Man with a Horn (1950), Detective Story (1951), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952; Oscar nomination), The Juggler (1953), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Lust for Life (1956; Oscar nomination), Paths of Glory (1957), The Vikings (1958), Lonely Are the Brave (1962), Is Paris Burning? (1966), The Arrangement (1969), Tough Guys (1986) and Diamonds (1999).
Part of his appeal was his sex appeal. (GIF via GIPHY)
Spartacus (1960) was a career-defining role and venture for Douglas, who produced as well as starred, and made the fortuitous decision to hire Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) to direct. The epic was one of the most expensive ever shot, and was instantly iconic for its flirtation with depicting homosexuality on-screen. It was a smash.
Spartacus was also noteworthy for Douglas's hiring of blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976). The action all but ended the practice.
Douglas intended to make a film of the 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, buying the rights and staging it as a play in 1963. He wound up giving the rights to his son, Michael, who produced it and won the Oscar for Best Picture with the resulting classic movie (1975).
From his lesser later film The Fury (1978) (Image via movie still)
In addition to his interest in producing, Douglas directed two films, the poorly received Scalawag (1973) and Posse (1975).
With frequent co-star Burt Lancaster (1913-1994) in Tough Guys (Image via movie still)
Later in his career, he expanded into TV, including the TV movies Amos (1985), Queenie (1987), a televised production of Inherit the Wind (1988), and his final gig, in Empire State Building Murders (2008).
Douglas received an honorary Oscar in 1996.
In 1991, Douglas nearly died in a helicopter crash that spurred him to become more spiritual and in touch with his Jewish faith. In 1996, he endured a severe stroke that limited his future work.
A Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, Douglas and his wife were major benefactors of a variety of causes, including Alzheimer's disease and elder abuse. He blogged well into his nineties.
In recent years, Douglas kept a lower profile, but did appear at the 2018 Golden Globes with daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta-Jones (b. 1969), where he received a standing ovation. His family also released photos of him celebrating his centennial birthdays.
Douglas is survived by his wife of 65 years and his three sons.