One of the most recognizable faces of the twentieth century, Kirk Douglas became a legend in his own time. The native New Yorker had it difficult growing up, but he never gave in to the pressure of others and went his own way professionally.
In February of 2020, at the age of 103, Douglas passed away, but his memory will endure for all time. At the same time that he was becoming a renowned actor and sharing the screen with the best, he was also starting a wonderful family, caring for his offspring, and paying it forward to the people who had supported him along the way.
Kirk Douglas had amassed a considerable fortune by the time of his death. However, according to rumors, he didn’t leave a dime to his kids, who apparently include actor Michael Douglas. Why? What follows is a complete guide to the life and career of Kirk Douglas, the great actor.
Issur Danielovitch was born Kirk Douglas on December 9, 1916 in Amsterdam, New York. After some time, he decided that a name change to Kirk Douglas would benefit his acting career, and so he legally changed his name to that.
Difficult upbringing: Kirk Douglas
Douglas’s parents, Russian Jews, had seven children, and life was difficult for the sole boy in the family. He said his family slept on a “shabby living-room sofa” in an unheated clapboard house and that they were the poorest people on “a street of poor families.”
Hershel Douglas, Kirk’s father, couldn’t work in the mills due of his religion and ended up being a junk dealer.
“Even on Eagle Street, in the poorest section of town, where all the families were struggling, the ragman was on the lowest rung on the ladder,” Mr. Douglas wrote in his best-selling autobiography. “And I was the ragman’s son.”
There were times when Douglas had to steal food from neighbors and grocery stores to keep his family fed.
As he described in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, growing up in Amsterdam, New York meant “living in the East End, the opposite side of town from the rich people on Market Hill. It meant living at 46 Eagle Street, a run-down, two-story, gray clapboard house, the last house at the bottom of a sloping street, next to the factories, the railroad tracks, and the Mohawk River.”
Kirk Douglas was the target of much harassment from youth gangs due to the fact that he was Jewish. Douglas, however, was unbowed by this setback, and he set about building a better life for himself and his loved ones through perseverance and hard work.
He discovered his love of acting in high school.
From paperboy to dishwasher, he said he worked 40 different jobs.
“I also was a hard worker. I’d invent jobs, like selling soda and candy to workers at the mill at the end of our street. Amsterdam was one of the largest mill towns in the country. There were dozens of factories but no jobs for Jews.”
When Kirk Douglas was a student at what was then called Wilbur Lynch High School but is now known as Amsterdam High School, he discovered a passion for acting. His English teacher, Louise Livingston, inspired him to explore his creative side through play and poetry, and he took part in a wide range of extracurricular activities.
“I would have been run out of town if I had ever admitted to liking poetry or said out loud, ‘I want to be a great actor.’ Because of her, I sent away for college and drama school catalogs and saved every penny so I could get there,” Douglas reminisced.
“Mrs. Livingston was cool and detached when she walked into the classroom. She never raised her well-modulated voice. Emotion crept in only when she read poetry. She thought I was wonderful. She encouraged me and kept me after school. What a sparkle came into her eyes as she read poem after poem with me sitting by her side.”
Kirk Douglas tried to save every dime he could for college, but it wasn’t enough. So he took a chance and hitched a ride to St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, located 200 miles away.
Kirk Douglas – Broadway debut in 1941
Douglas brought his transcripts, poetry, and a letter of recommendation from his English instructor, Mrs. Livingston, to the interview. With the help of the dean, he was able to secure a meeting with the faculty and ultimately persuade them to award him a scholarship.
Kirk was a regular performer at the Tamarack Playhouse on Lake Pleasant during the summers. Also, at that city, he decided to legally alter his name to Kirk Douglas.
“One day, a few of my friends insisted I needed a more American name. Someone suggested Douglas,” he recalled. “My new first name took longer. Someone finally said, Kirk. My new name sounded masculine and strong.”
Following years of practice, Douglas made his Broadway debut in the musical Spring Again in 1941. He was steadily cast in more and more Broadway productions until catastrophic world events derailed his career.
As soon as World War II began, Kirk Douglas enlisted. He joined the Army as a pilot because he experienced “a surge of patriotism and a wave of Jewishness,” but he ended up as a submarine communications officer.
In 1943, however, Kirk Douglas was injured in an accident aboard one of the submarines and hospitalized. Due to his illness, he was medically released from the Navy at the rank of junior lieutenant.
Kirk Douglas: iconic performances and multiple Oscar nominations
He returned to the United States and kept working in the entertainment industry. Kirk Douglas’s singing voice was ruined by an illness, which nearly ended his career. But we all know that didn’t work out. After seeing him perform, Hollywood producer Hal Willis placed him in his 1946 picture The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers.
Kirk Douglas’s career in Hollywood skyrocketed after that moment, and he is now regarded as a legend. Three years later, in 1949’s Boxer, he broke through as the title character, a boxer named Midge Kelly. It was his first time being considered for an Academy Award for a leading role, and it netted him a nomination.
Douglas had two more Academy Award nominations for his work in 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful and 1956’s Lust for Life, but he was never victorious in the Oscar race. But in 1996, for “50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community.”
Kirk Douglas had previously tied the knot once by the 1950s. Their sons Joel and Michael Douglas were born during his marriage to model and actress Diana Dill, which lasted from 1943 to 1951.
Three short years later, the renowned actor would meet the woman he would spend the rest of his life with as husband and wife.
Kirk Douglas’s wife and kids
Kirk first met his future wife, Anne Buydens, on the set in Paris. Douglas got rather enamored with her when she was helping out with the press. But at initially, his efforts to win her over fell flat.
“I had been a big movie star with two Oscar nominations by the time I met Anne, and I believed that any woman would be flattered if I asked her out,” he recalled. “Anne was the one who turned me down,” Kirk Douglas recalled.
Anne, as it turned out, was not completely without justification.
“Of course, he was charming and sexy, but I had seen too many young women in Paris fall in love with American movie stars who went home to their lives and wives when their pictures wrapped,” she said. “I certainly didn’t want to be another location romance casualty. I had survived war in occupied Paris and knew instinctively how to protect myself from dangerous situations.”
Finally, Kirk figured out how to approach Anne. He persuaded her to help promote his 1953 film Act of Love, and they began working together. They met, fell in love, and tied the wedding in 1954. Peter and Eric Douglas were their two children.
Michael Douglas is the most successful of all his sons who entered the film industry. The two-time Oscar winner is best known for his roles in such iconic films as Wall Street (for which he received an Oscar for his portrayal of Gordon Gecko) as well as Falling Down and Wonder Boys.
Yet, things weren’t always smooth sailing in the relationship between son and dad. For instance, Douglas wouldn’t refer to his father as “dad” when he spoke with the AP.
Michael Douglas and his son, a source of conflict
“In those key years, when Kirk was doing five movies a year… Kirk was all-consumed, was overworked. Probably like myself at a certain time in my life.”
As 1975 progressed, the distance between Michael and Kirk Douglas widened. Kirk’s son persuaded him to sell the rights to the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which Kirk had previously held.
Although Michael’s father had previously portrayed the character of Randle McMurphy on Broadway, when it came time to start filming, Michael, in his new capacity as producer, decided against casting his father in the major role.
“So Michael asked me if he could try to produce it, and I said: ‘Sure!’ Next thing I know, he has a director lined up, and it’s all go. So I said to him: ‘Great! When do we start rehearsing?’” Kirk Douglas recalled in an interview with The Guardian.
“Not you, Dad,” Michael replied, devastatingly. “You’re too old.”
“I couldn’t believe it!” Douglas added. “So I said: ‘Who’s playing my part? Jack Nicholson? Never heard of him. Well, at least it will be a flop.”
In spite of the film’s success at the Oscars—where Michael Douglas won for Best Picture and Jack Nicholson for Best Actor—their relationship did not improve.
How Kirk Douglas died and how much he was worth
Spartacus, in which Kirk Douglas starred as the titular character in 1960, is widely regarded as one of his finest performances. The film was nominated for four Oscars and ended up taking home two, propelling Kirk to the very top of the Hollywood food chain.
Douglas has appeared in over 90 films over his career. In 2008, he made his final acting appearance in the TV movie Empire State Building Murders.
Kirk Douglas embodied the epitome of a Hollywood movie star. On February 5, 2020, at the age of 103, he passed away.
An estimated $61 million was Kirk Douglas’s net worth when he passed away. He gave everything he had to various charities rather than to his own family, including his son Michael Douglas and the rest of his family.
The Mirror claims that Douglas gave $50 million to the college he had attended, St. Lawrence. Additionally, sizable donations were made to the Kirk Douglas Theatre, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and the Sinai Temple of Westwood.
Kirk and Anne Douglas have given money to the aforementioned organizations through the Douglas Foundation in the past. The foundation’s stated goal is “to help those who cannot otherwise help themselves.” as stated on its official website.
As far as we know, Michael Douglas did not inherit any money.
Page Six has revealed that Michael Douglas will receive no financial support from his family. On the other hand, he probably won’t need it because he’s worth about $300 million.
Michael, who had argued with his father in the past, spoke highly of his father’s generous and caring nature after his death.
“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,” Michael Douglas said in a statement.
Kirk Douglas survived a difficult upbringing to become a leading man in Hollywood’s Golden Age. The Lord have mercy on his soul.
In memory of the late Kirk Douglas, please SHARE this piece on Facebook with your Friends and Family.