Kirk Douglas dead: Legendary Hollywood actor dies aged 103

Son Michael pays tribute to Spartacus star, who was one of last surviving faces of Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’

Tom Barnes
Thursday 06 February 2020 00:39 GMT
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Hollywood veteran Kirk Douglas dies aged 103

Kirk Douglas, star of Spartacus, Lust for Life and Paths of Glory and one of the legends of the Golden Age of Hollywood, has died at the age of 103.

In a statement, his son Michael said: “It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103

“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.

“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.”

Born Issur Danielovitch, to Jewish-Russian immigrants living an impoverished life in New York, Douglas forged a prolific career in Hollywood, picking up nearly 100 credits as an actor, producer and director.

He also played a major role in breaking the Hollywood blacklist – actors, directors and writers who were shunned professionally because of links to the communist movement in the 1950s. Douglas said he was more proud of that than any film he made.

His first film was The Strange Loves Of Martha Ivers in 1946, which starred Barbara Stanwyck.

But he had turned down a studio contract and also refused to have plastic surgery to remove the cleft in his chin that became his trademark.

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Douglas was known for powerful performances as characters who had to endure intense on-screen pain. He 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.

His other notable movies were Lonely Are the Brave, The Devil’s Disciple, Victory at Entebbe and Tough Guys, which he made with Lancaster in 1986.

The lifetime Oscar in 1996 was Douglas’ only Academy Award, although he had been nominated three times – in 1949, 1952 and 1956.

Douglas had a reputation as a Hollywood ladies’ man. Among the lovers listed in the 1988 book The Ragman’s So, one of several books he wrote about his life, were Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Maxwell, Patricia Neal and Gene Tierney.

While making Act of Love Douglas met Anne Buydens, the film’s publicist, and they married in 1954. Their marriage became one of Hollywood’s most enduring despite his affairs. They had two sons, Peter and Eric.

Douglas, who survived a 1991 helicopter crash that killed two people, tried to discourage his children from following him into acting. Still, Michael became a superstar and a successful producer, Joel and Peter also were producers and Eric was an actor until his 2004 death from a drug overdose.

Douglas starred in Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 epic Spartacus

“You see how they listened to me,” Douglas once said.

A stroke in 1996 at age 80 had left Douglas with slurred speech and damaged facial nerves. But two weeks later he showed his spirit by attending the Academy Awards ceremony to receive his Lifetime Achievement Award. He also continued to take small acting roles through 2008 but said the stroke left him suicidal.

“Humour saved me,” Douglas told Parade magazine in 2014. “At first, I thought my life was at an end. But when I put the gun in my mouth, it hit a tooth. Ow! And that struck me funny. A toothache was stopping me from committing suicide?”

In one of his last public appearances, Douglas was frail and barely audible in a wheelchair as he helped daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta-Jones present the Oscar for best screenplay in January 2018. In November of that year he joined his son Michael as the younger Douglas was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Douglas, who grew a long white ponytail in his later years, published several books, including a book of poetry, prose and photographs in 2014 and Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter and a Lifetime in Hollywood, in 2017 with his wife.

He established the Douglas Foundation for making charitable donations and in 2015 he and Anne announced plans to give away his $80m (£61m) fortune to a variety of causes.

The beneficiaries included a shelter for homeless women named after Anne, the Los Angeles public school district, St. Lawrence University and hospitals.

To mark his 99th birthday in 2015 he donated $15m to the Motion Picture and Television Fund to help build a facility for entertainment industry figures with Alzheimer’s disease.

Additional reporting by agencies

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