One of the last film stars from the Golden Era of Hollywood, Kirk Douglas, died on February 5, at the age of 103.
“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,” Michael wrote.
Michael Douglas also described his father’s life as “well-lived,” marked by “a history as a renowned philanthropist who worked to aid the public and bring peace to the planet,” and his legacy as one “that will endure for generations to come.”
Indeed, those words aren’t a son’s unfounded effusion at a time of grief.
Kirk Douglas’ Legacy
For one, Kirk Douglas’ story follows a similar trajectory to the inspirational stories we see on the big screen. Son of Russian immigrants, he had to work reportedly 40 jobs before he could dedicate himself on his true calling, including working as a janitor and a gardener while attending St. Lawrence University which had granted him a wrestling scholarship. He also served in the Navy in World War II.
In other words, Kirk Douglas was a true man, which, along with his square jaw and athleticism, lent itself perfectly to the on-screen tough guy persona he started to inhabit. But besides his classic good looks and manhood, his roles were often more than just straightforward machismo. Douglas’s true talent was at full display when channeled into nuanced, controversial characters that audiences were infinitely intrigued by, and can’t help but root for, despite having all the reasons not to – the type of characters that both actors and viewers alike are captivated by to this day.
After Kirk Douglas made his film debut in 1946 with The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, his role in the noir classic Out of the Past a year later was a vivid glimpse into his potential. He went onto cementing his place as a charismatic and enigmatic leading man in films like Champion, The Bad and the Beautiful, The Vikings, Ace in the Hole, and more.
To escape typecasting, Kirk Douglas created his own production company, Bryna Productions, that was behind arguably his two most iconic movies – Paths of Glory and Spartacus, both of which were directed by Stanley Kubrick.
Another thing that stands out in Kirk Douglas’ career and unfailingly evokes respect is his role in breaking the Hollywood blacklist, which prohibited anyone involved or suspected to be involved with Communism to work. One such person was renowned screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, whom Douglas allowed to put his name on Spartacus – an act that seemed revolutionary at the time and marked the beginning of a well-needed shift.
Kirk Douglas never truly left the public eye even when his roles started to decrease. His 1988 autobiography, The Ragman’s Son, drew a lot of attention, with New York Times stating it read “like a collection of stories the actor has been telling over dinner for years.” Even after a serious stroke in 1996 that impaired his speech and thrust him into severe depression, he continued to make memorable appearances of various sorts in the following years.
Kirk Douglas had 3 Oscar nominations – for Champion, The Bad and the Beautiful, and Lust For Life, in which he played Vincent Van Gogh, before winning an honorary lifetime achievement award in 1995.