Kirk Douglas was one of the last surviving members of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Learn more about the legendary actor who died on Feb. 5 at 103 years old.
Kirk Douglas has died at the age of 103 his son Michael Douglas, 75, confirmed in a touching statement on Wednesday, Feb. 5. “It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103,” Michael posted on Instagram. “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.” Here’s 5 things to know about the Hollywood icon who is one of the last surviving of his generation.
1. He was born in New York. Kirk was Issur Danielovitch born on Dec. 9, 1916 in Amsterdam, NY to Jewish immigrants Bryna “Bertha” and Herschel “Harry” Danielovitch. The only son in the family, Kirk had six sisters Pesha, Kaleh, Tamara, Rachel and twins Hashka and Siffra. “I came from abject poverty. There was nowhere to go but up. In order to achieve anything you must be brave enough to fail,” he told Esquire in 2001. Kirk — then going by Izzy Demsky — attended St. Lawrence University where he graduated in 1939. Later, he earned a scholarship at NYC’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
2. He had 92 acting credits. Kirk appeared in a slew of some of Hollywood’s most iconic films, making his on-screen debut in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers with Barbara Stanwyck in 1946. Some of his other best-known movies include Spartacus, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and The Bad & The Beautiful. The legend worked with iconic directors like Stanley Kubrick and Vincente Minnelli, and shared the screen with Hollywood actresses like Lauren Bacall, Doris Day, and Lee Grant. In 1955, Kirk founded his own production company Bryna Productions — after his mother — breaking his years-long contract with Warner Bros. Though Kirk had tremendous success in film, his original dream was to be in theatre. “I never wanted to be in movies. In a sense, I’m still a failure because I wanted to be a star on the stage,” he said to AP in 2009. “The first time I had got an offer to come to Hollywood, I turned it down. I said, ‘No, I’m an actor of the stage.'”
3. He won many awards. Over his 80 or so films, Kirk was revered for his talents — even earning an Oscar for for Lifetime Achievement back in 1996. “I am proud to be a part of Hollywood for 50 years,” he said in his speech. “I love all of you and I thank all of you for 50 wonderful years.” Prior, he was nominated three times in the Best Actor category for 1950’s Champion, 1953’s The Bad and the Beautiful and 1957’s Lust For Life. Kirk was also the winner of two Golden Globe Awards — including the Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement — in addition to three Emmy nominations.
4. He was a family man. Kirk was married to Anne Buydens, 100, for 63 years and a proud father to his three surviving sons Michael, 75, Joel, 73, and Peter, 64. His youngest son Eric sadly died at 46 of a drug overdose in July 2004. Through his sons, he was father-in-law to Catherine Zeta-Jones, 50, and grandfather to seven grandkids. “I am so proud of Michael because he never followed my advice. I wanted him to be a doctor or lawyer, and the first time I saw him in a play I told him he was terrible,” Kirk admitted in a 2017 interview with The Guardian. “But then I saw him a second time and I said, ‘You were wonderful!’ And I think he is very good in everything he’s done.” Michael went on to become a two-time Academy Award winner, an Emmy winner, and a five-time Golden Globe winner.
5. He was a survivor. Kirk was involved in a helicopter crash in 1991, after the aircraft collided with a small airplane above Santa Paula Airport. Two others were killed during the incident, and Kirk — who was 72 at the time — miraculously survived after suffering from a fractured rib. Kirk also suffered a stroke in 1996. Although is speech was affected, he continued to keep up public appearances at Hollywood events — even presenting with daughter-in-law Catherine at the Academy Awards in 2018. “I’ve survived a helicopter crash and back surgery. I have a pacemaker. I had a stroke that almost made me commit suicide. But I tell myself, I have to continue growing and functioning. That’s the only antidote for age,” Kirk said in his Esquire interview.