The patriarch of the movie world and Michael Douglas’ dad is officially a centenarian.
Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas, the star of such films as “Spartacus” and “The Vikings,” turns 100 today after a long movie career that has stretched across seven decades.
Douglas was one of the biggest box-office stars of the 1950s and ’60s and has made more than 90 movies. 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 – an act he was more proud of than any film he made.
In his youth, Douglas had a distinctive chin, razor-sharp cheekbones and a jutting jaw – looks that he has passed along to son Michael, who also became a star – and that made him a natural for playing all manner of rugged characters.
Douglas also had a demanding nature that earned him a reputation in his prime as the actor who directed directors. Long-time friend and sometime co-star Burt Lancaster loved to introduce him by saying, “Kirk would be the first to admit he is a difficult person. (Pause) I would be the second.”
Douglas said playing Vincent van Gogh in “Lust for Life” (1956) was his favorite role but “Spartacus” (1960) was his favorite film because, as producer, he took a big step toward breaking the Hollywood blacklist.
A stroke in March of 1996 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 a Lifetime Achievement Award. He also continued to take small acting roles through 2008 but said the stroke left him suicidal.
The lifetime Oscar was Douglas’ only Academy Award even though he was nominated for playing ruthless boxer Midge Kelly in “Champion” (1949), a movie executive in “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952) and van Gogh in “Lust for Life.”
Douglas’ first movie was “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers,” in 1946 after being suggested for the part by acting school classmate Betty Joan Perske, who would find fame after changing her name to Lauren Bacall.
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.”
Born Issur Danielovich on Dec. 9, 1916, in Amsterdam, New York, Douglas was the only son of seven children born to illiterate Russian immigrants.
After graduating from high school, he hitch-hiked to St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, where he became a wrestling champion. He also staged and starred in theatrical productions, changing his name to Izzy Demsy.
After St. Lawrence, he graduated from New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1941 and changed his name to Kirk Douglas. He joined the Navy following two small Broadway roles.
While in the Navy he married British actress Diana Dill and they had two sons, Michael and Joel, before the marriage ended after eight years.
Douglas had a reputation as a Hollywood ladies’ man. Among the lovers listed in the 1988 book “The Ragman’s Son,” one of several books he wrote about his life, were Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Maxwell, Patricial Neal and Gene Tierney.
While making “Act of Love” in 1953, Douglas met and married Anne Buydens, the film’s publicist. 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, who grew a long white ponytail in his later years, published several books, including a book of poetry, prose and photographs at age 98 in 2014.
He established the Douglas Foundation for making charitable donations and in 2015 he and Anne announced plans to give away his $80 million 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 $15 million to the Motion Picture and Television Fund to help build a facility for entertainment industry figures with Alzheimer’s disease.