Kirk Douglas, one of the most famous American leading men of the mid-20th century remembered for his dimpled chin, chiseled features, and virile Hollywood roles, died Wednesday at the age of 103, his family announced.
“It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103,” Kirk’s son, Michael Douglas, wrote in a statement shared to social media.
He continued: “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,” he added.
Michael concluded his post by writing: “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.”
The statement did not indicate exactly how or where he died.
The 75-year-old actor also shared photos of his late father which included several sweet family photos.
A World War II veteran who survived a helicopter crash, a stroke, and two knee replacements, Douglas literally rose from rags to riches — his father was a ragman — and starred in over 80 films, including, perhaps most famously, “Spartacus.” He remained in the public spotlight well into his old age, if not as an actor then as a producer, author, and blogger.
Douglas was born Issur “Izzy” Danielovitch Demsky December 9, 1916, to Russian Jewish parents in Amsterdam, New York.
His family was poor, and he claimed to have worked more than 40 jobs — including stints as a professional wrestler, a waiter, and a janitor — before becoming an actor.
Loans, scholarships, and sweet-talking propelled the aspiring performer through St. Lawrence University and, eventually, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, where he studied alongside Lauren Bacall and his future wife Diana Dill, who would give birth to his first and most famous son, Michael, in 1944.
After two small roles on Broadway under his new stage name, Kirk Douglas, and a few years in the Navy during World War II, he made his on-screen debut with a part in 1946’s “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” at age 30.
“Kirk’s life was well lived, and he leaves a legacy in film that will endure for generations to come”
However, his big break came in 1949 when he starred as an ambitious boxer in the film noir classic “Champion,” which earned him his first of three Oscar nominations for Best Actor.
The role cemented Douglas’ steely image, and with his distinctive raspy voice and piercing eyes he continued to take on intense, often cocky, characters in his films. He was once quoted as saying “I’ve made a career of playing sons of b—hes.”
He played a ruthless Hollywood producer in “The Bad and Beautiful” (1952) and portrayed Vincent Van Gogh in “Lust for Life” (1956).
Through his own company, Bryna Productions — named for his mother — Douglas also produced and starred in the Kubrick-directed “Paths of Glory” (1957) and, more famously, in “Spartacus” (1960).
Douglas’ decision to give screen credit to “Spartacus'” blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo — one of the “Hollywood Ten” who testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 — helped bring an end to entertainment industry McCarthyism.
After a divorce from his first wife in 1951, Douglas eloped with German-born publicist Anne Buydens in 1954, and despite affairs with fellow stars Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich and Pier Angeli, among others, he retained a reputation as a family man, increasingly devoted to his wife as he grew old.
Of the secret to his long-lasting marriage, Douglas told Fox News in 2017: “[Date night is] the same as it’s been throughout our marriage. We spend what we call the ‘golden hour’ together at around 6:30 each night. We’ll sit and talk and laugh and share our day and our thoughts with each other.”
As his film career waned in the 1980s — and his son’s career took off — Douglas focused on philanthropy, charity work, and his role as goodwill ambassador for the US State Department, a post he has held since 1963.
He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981, the Jefferson Award for public service in 1983, and the French Legion of Honor in 1985.
Though he never actually won an Academy Award, Douglas was granted an Honorary Oscar in 1996 “for 50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community.”
Douglas wrote three novels and several memoirs about his career, his newfound spirituality — he embraced Judaism, the faith in which he was raised, after surviving a helicopter crash that killed two others in 1991 — and his struggle with depression and regaining his speech after suffering a stroke in 1996.
In 2003, Douglas finally starred alongside his son Michael, as well as his first wife and grandson Cameron, in “It Runs in the Family,” a movie about a dysfunctional multi-generation family trying to reconcile their differences. It earned disappointing box office figures and cool reviews.
He fared much better with critics at age 92, when he delivered sold-out performances of his one-man show, “Before I Forget,” presenting anecdotes about living through Hollywood’s Golden Age and self-deprecating meditations on his achievements.
He is survived by his wife of 65 years (married May 29, 1954) Anne Buydens, their son Peter Douglas, two sons from his first marriage — Michael and Joel Douglas — and seven grandchildren.