The Hollywood legend was 103.
Kirk Douglas, a legend of Hollywood’s Golden Age and star of such iconic films like Spartacus, has passed away at the incredible age of 103.
His passing was announced by his son, two-time Oscar winner Michael Douglas in a statement on Instagram, which 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.”
Douglas will be remembered for his incredible career in which he appeared in almost 100 films, won three Academy Awards, and was even the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 1996.
Perhaps his most famous role was that of Spartacus in the 1960 film of the same name. A performer and producer, Douglas had a real instinct for dramatic moments, even fighting with Stanley Kubrick to shoot the now-iconic scene in Spartacus where the rebellious gladiator refuse to identify him, rising in turn to say, “I am Spartacus.”
He was also a very successful producer, who established Bryna Productions in 1995 – a company which collaborated with Kubrick (who was relatively unknown at the time) on both Spartacus and Paths of Glory, the former winning a total of four Oscars and the accolade of Universal Studios’ highest-grossing picture ever, at the time.
Douglas’ work on Spartacus was also notable because of his part in contributing towards breaking the “Hollywood blacklist” which saw a number of professionals who were considered to be communist sympathisers denied work through the ‘40s and ‘50s. The actor wrote a book in 2012 about the making of the film, and in this he recalled how he was the main force behind ensuring that Dalton Trumbo (one of the people on the blacklist) was given an official on-screen credit for writing the film.
“I’ve made over 85 pictures,” Douglas told the Jewish Chronicle in 2012. “But the thing I’m most proud of is breaking the blacklist.”
He was born Issur Danielovitch on December 9th, 1916 in Amsterdam, New York, to Jewish immigrant parents. However, he didn’t truly begin practising Judaism as an adult until after he was in a near-fatal helicopter crash in 1991, where two people were killed.
Growing up in poverty, he changed his name to Kirk Douglas shortly before he joined the US Navy during World War II, serving as a comms officer on an anti-submarine vessel. According to Douglas himself, he had more than 40 jobs before he became an actor. He received a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he studied alongside Lauren Bacall, whom he also dated on and off during their studies, and remained close friends with until her death in 2014.
It was Bacall who helped him land his first film role in Lewis Milestone’s The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, which was shown in Cannes in 1947, earning Douglas some acclaim for his performance.
He continued to act on stage throughout his career, even starring in the 1963 Broadway production of Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, alongside Gene Wilder and William Daniels. Douglas retained the rights to the book after the play, and while he was unable to find backing to make a feature film adaptation of the book, he passed on the rights to his son Michael, who successfully produced the 1975 film starring Jack Nicholson, and directed by Miloš Forman.
While he was known for his acting prowess, Douglas was also well-noted in the industry for his fiery personality, with the actor himself once claiming he was “the most disliked actor in Hollywood” due to his assertive nature, however he was also well-regarded for his sense of humour.
As well as Michael, Douglas also had three other sons: producers Joel and Peter, and actor/stand-up comedian Eric, who tragically died of an accidental overdose in 2004. The Douglas patriarch was married to actress Diana Webster from 1943-1951, having Michael and Joel. He then went on to marry producer and philanthropist Anne Buydens in 1954, and the two remained married until his death.
Alongside Buydens, Douglas was involved in a number of philanthropic ventures, including the couple travelling to over 40 countries as goodwill ambassadors to campaign for democracy. In 1981, President Jimmy Carter awarded Douglas with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts. Together, the couple donated huge amounts to causes including Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Alzheimer’s and homeless women. They also built a theatre and numerous parks in Israel.
It was in January 1996 that Douglas suffered a stroke that left him unable to speak, however he underwent therapy and his speech returned fast enough that he was able to accept his honorary Academy Award that March.
Later in his life, the actor became an ardent online writer, and was considered by many to be the world’s oldest celebrity blogger. Huffington Post hosted his blogs until 2017, including his entry about his long-standing friendship with Nancy Reagan, who died in 2016. Douglas also authored 10 books, which culminated in 2014 with a collection of poems.
Kirk Douglas is survived by his wife Anne, sons Michael, Joel and Peter, his sister Lua Izzy, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. He leaves behind a legacy in film and philanthropy which will see him remembered for many years to come as an incredibly talented actor, passionate creative, and an enormously giving man. May he rest in peace.