With those chiseled cheekbones and that famously-dimpled chin, it's no wonder Kirk Douglas rose to the top of the Hollywood A-list and remained there during his illustrious 70-year career. The star of more than 90 films, this big-screen heartthrob has created quite a legacy that will live on long after his time on this earth has ended - although that time doesn't appear to be anytime soon!
In honor of his 101st birthday (December 9, 2017) let's take a nostalgic look back on some of Kirk Douglas' greatest achievements - not only in the film industry but also in his personal life.
Kirk Douglas was born in 1916 to Russian immigrant parents who named him Issur Danielovitch. He grew up in Amsterdam, New York with his parents and six sisters. After graduating from High School, this future-Hollywood actor began a short career in professional wrestling, taking the temporary stage name of Izzy Demsey.
In 1941, he joined the Navy and, in 1943 Kirk met and married his first wife, actress Diana Dill, mother of sons Michael and Joel. The marriage wasn't to last, however, ending in divorce after eight years.
In 1945 Douglas gained industry-wide attention for his break-out role in “Champion” for which he received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Although he didn't take home the Oscar that year, he won an even bigger prize: a foot in the door to one of the most prolific careers in Hollywood history.
Onscreen, the actor gravitated toward roles that emphasized his masculinity and tough-guy persona. “Douglas was known for powerful performances as characters who had to endure intense on-screen pain.
He [his charcter] was stabbed in ‘Ace in the Hole,’ crucified in ‘Spartacus,’ lost an eye in ‘The Vikings,’ an ear in ‘Lust for Life,’ and a finger in ‘The Big Sky.’” (Life Magazine, 2016)
Douglas has a lot to be proud of when he reflects on his century+ of living. Not only was Kirk Douglas a popular film star through much of the '40s, '50, '60, and '70s, his legacy was further entrenched by producing four sons who also contributed to the acting industry. Although he discouraged his sons from entering the entertainment field, that admonishment seemed to fall on deaf ears. Two of his sons, Joel and Peter, are successful producers, and his youngest son, Eric, was an actor before his untimely death in 2004.
The most famous of his progeny, of course, is his eldest son, Michael, whose own career has nearly matched that of his father. During the younger Douglas' 50 years in the limelight, he has been a television star ("Streets of San Francisco"), Oscar-winning film Director ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"), producer, and movie star - appearing in several high-grossing films.
Outside of his role as a movie idol, Kirk Douglas has achieved something that is rarely seen among his contemporaries. After an early divorce from the mother of his first two sons, he has enjoyed a successful second marriage to former-publicist Anne Buydens who gave him two more sons. The couple has been together for more than 60 years - quite a monumental achievement in this day-and-age, especially in Hollywood!
During his expansive career, Kirk Douglas starred in over 90 films and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Lead Role - three times. Although he never garnered the Best Actor statuette, he did receive a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996, “For 50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community.” Little did they know at the time that he would be around for another 20-some years!!
As if 50 years in the business weren't impressive enough, just two weeks before he was to receive this honor, he suffered a serious stroke that resulted in partial facial paralysis and slurred speech. Never has the old showbiz slogan, “The show must go on!” been more perfectly personified than on the night of the 1996 Academy Awards.
No one expected the ailing star to appear, much less come on stage. But the old pro wasn’t going to let a “little thing” like a stroke deter him from reveling in the accolades of his peers. When the time came, the old pro not only stepped on stage to receive his award, he even gave a short speech, in spite of his difficulty in speaking. That’s true grit if I ever saw it. “The darkness has a life of its own.” (Kirk Douglas in “The Bad and the Beautiful”)
Since his "retirement" from Hollywood, Kirk Douglas continues to make significant contributions to the world that has given him so much. In 2014, Douglas published a book, "Life Could Be Verse," a compilation of his original poetry, prose, autobiographical stories, and family and professional photographs that he had accumulated over the past 70 years.
Charities have also benefitted from Douglas' magnanimity. In 2015 alone, Douglas contributed $15,000,000 to the Motion Picture and Television Fund to provide assistance to members of the entertainment industry who are struggling with Alzheimer's disease.
Not only has he lent his name to numerous charitable causes, Kirk and his wife Anne have announced plans to bequeath his $80 million fortune to the causes that are nearest and dearest to his heart: his alma mater St. Lawrence University, the Los Angeles public school system, various hospitals, and a homeless shelter he established in his wife's name.
From his early start in Hollywood, all through his 90-movie career, and finally to his quieter golden years, it is evident that Kirk Douglas has crammed more "living" into his 101 years than any ten ordinary men could have done. We are so happy that Issur Danielovitch's humble beginnings gave way to the fabulous life of the beloved motion picture star we all know as Kirk Douglas. Here's to the living legend who refuses to give up on life - even at the remarkable age of 101. Happy Birthday, Mr. Douglas, and many more!
Please click on the video, below, to enjoy watching Kirk Douglas in his courageous and memorable appearance at the 1996 Academy Awards: