Kirk Douglas has died at the age of 103, according to TMZ. Douglas was an integral part of Hollywood’s Golden Age, creating a career as an actor, producer, director, and author, picking up three Academy Award nominations for Best Actor as well as an honorary award for “50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community,” and a Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute. Over a career that spanned more than 60 years, Douglas was a box office star who played some of the most iconic characters portrayed on film, including Spartacus and Ned Land in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
“It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103,” reads a statement from his son, Michael Douglas. “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 [setting] a standard of us all 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-grandchildren, their loving grandfather, and to his wife Anne, a wonderful husband.”
Douglas Rose From Poverty To Hollywood Elite
Douglas was born as Issur Danielovitch on December 9, 1916, in Amsterdam, New York. He was the son of Jewish immigrants from modern-day Belarus and spoke Yiddish at home while growing up. The family adopted the surname Demsky upon their arrival in the United States, with Douglas living as Izzy Desky until he legally changed his name to Kirk Douglas before he joined the Navy during World War II.
Douglas had six sisters and grew up selling food to mill workers to make money to feed the family. He had experience in high school acting in plays and despite being unable to afford tuition was able to obtain a loan to attend St. Lawrence University. He received a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA) in New York City before he enlisted during World War II.
During his wartime service in the Navy, Douglas married Diana Dill, with whom he had sons Michael in 1944 and Joel in 1947 before their divorce in 1951. He was medically discharged from his service in 1944, upon which Douglas returned to New York to begin his acting career. His early jobs in the industry included radio, theater, and commercials. His AADA classmate Lauren Bacall helped get Douglas his first film role, in 1946’s The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, which saw him receive acclaim from critics.
Douglas began to make a name for himself due to his tough-guy portrayals, including 1947’s Out of the Past with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer and 1949’s Champion. Champion proved to be Douglas’ breakthrough, earning the actor his first Academy Award nomination.
Douglas Became A Major Figure During The Golden Age Of Hollywood
Over the next 20 years, Douglas was one of the biggest stars in the film industry. In 1951, he starred in the Academy Award-nominated Detective Story, which he followed up by receiving a nomination for his role in 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful. He was notable for his portrayal of cowboys in the Western genre, including 1951’s Along the Great Divide and 1962’s Lonely Are the Brave.
Douglas took a departure from his usual serious roles in 1954’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, playing the comedic role of Ned Land in the box-office smash. In 1955, he started Bryna Productions, his own movie company which made notable films that included Paths of Glory, The Vikings, Spartacus, Lonely are the Brave and Seven Days in May. Paths of Glory was a part of the shift in popularity from the Western genre to the War genre in films, seeing Douglas portray soldiers in film throughout the 60s.
Douglas received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh in 1956’s Lust for Life. His most well-known role in the title role of 1960’s Spartacus. The film’s $12 million cost made it the most expensive film ever produced at the time. Beyond its cost, the film was important due to Douglas giving a screenwriting credit to Dalton Trumbo, effectively ending the infamous Hollywood blacklist.
Over the course of the decade, Douglas became known for his roles alongside Burt Lancaster with the pair becoming the face of several box-office hits. While he was no longer the mega-star as he aged from the 70s on, Douglas began his career as a director, starting with 1973’s Scalawag. The most well-known film directed by Douglas was 1975’s Posse, which he also starred in. He made his final appearance alongside Lancaster in 1986’s Tough Guys, nearly 40 years after the pair’s first film together.
Douglas’ 2003 film It Runs in the Family was something of a family reunion. The film was produced by his son’s Michael and Joel Douglas, and he starred alongside Michael and Michael’s son. The film also starred Dill as his wife, more than 50 years after their divorce.
Douglas kept public appearances to a minimum after suffering a stroke in 1998, but did appear at the age of 101 alongside daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta-Jones at the 2018 Golden Globes to present the “Best Screenplay – Motion Picture” award.