Michael Douglas's son gets five years for drug-dealing after star pleads for leniency

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A New York judge yesterday sentenced Cameron Douglas to a five-year prison sentence for drug dealing, apparently taking heed of a last-minute appeal for leniency from his father, the actor Michael Douglas. Normal sentencing guidelines would have called for a minimum of 10 years.

Douglas, 31, pleaded guilty in January after being charged with dealing in cocaine and methamphetamine in a Manhattan hotel. The high-watt celebrity of the family name was highlighted, among other mitigating factors, by Douglas Sr in a five-page handwritten letter delivered to the sentencing judge, Richard Berman.

The actor also cited bad parenting and a history of substance abuse. "I love my son, but I'm not blind to his actions... I don't want to see him break," the actor told the federal judge in a letter that was made public on the eve of the sentencing.

Others who wrote to the judge in support of leniency included Douglas Jr's step-mother, the Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Delivering sentence, Judge Berman told Douglas Jr that it represented his "last chance to make it".

As his father admits, his history of drug problems dates back to when he was barely a teenager. In 2003, he starred with his father and grandfather, the acting legend Kirk Douglas, in the film It Runs in the Family, and subsequently worked as a club DJ in New York. Lawyers say he later sank into heroin addiction and, in 2006, after his family cut him off for refusing to go into rehab, began dealing in drugs to fund his addiction.

"I don't want to burden you with a litany of my son, Cameron's rehab history, beginning at 13," the highly unusual letter began. "He's an adult and responsible for his own life. We do know, however, that genes, family, and peer pressure are all a strong influence on a substance abuser."

Visiting his son in the Manhattan Correctional Centre has given Douglas Sr an unexpected chance to grow closer to his disgraced son. "I have cherished my two hours a week in person... with Cameron at the MCC. He's sober!" He added: "I get to witness the wonderful young man he can be. He maintains his spirit, blames no one but himself." Douglas Sr, the star of Wall Street and other box-office hits, has said he was treated at an Arizona clinic for alcohol abuse in the 1990s.

His half-brother, Eric Douglas, died in 2004 of an accidental overdose of alcohol and prescription pills after years of struggling with addiction.

Douglas Jr may have been born into glitter, but in his letter his father dwells on the downsides to Hollywood privilege.

He was the son of a "a father whose career took him away from home, and a young mother without any parenting skills from her own parents", he said, apparently referring to himself and his first wife, Diandra Luker.