Hollywood has lost an icon, legend, one of the greatest ever.
On February 5, 2020, Kirk Douglas passed away at the age of 103. The news was announced by his son, Hollywood legend Michael Douglas, via social media. The elder Douglas became one of the greatest icons during the tail end of the Golden Age of Hollywood, becoming immortalized with his performance in Spartacus.
Born Issur Danielovitch on December 9, 1916 in Amsterdam, New York, Douglas was the son of a peddler. His uncle, who had emigrated earlier, changed his last name to “Demsky” and Issur became “Izzy Demsky”. However, before his entry in the United States Navy during World War II, Issur Danielovitch legally changed his name to the now iconic “Kirk Douglas”.
After his honorable discharge in 1944, Douglas began work in radio, television, and stage. In 1946, Douglas made his film debut in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, starring Barbara Stanwyck and it would be his only role in which played a weak man. Three years later, his role as a boxer in Stanley Kramer‘s Champion would become the film that gave Douglas his trademark “tough guy” persona.
Becoming one of the top actors in the 1950’s, Douglas played the iconic Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh in Vincente Minnelli‘s Lust for Life. Douglas was given major rave for the role, earning him a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination. While his co-star Anthony Quinn won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role of Van Gogh’s best friend Paul Ganguin, Minelli felt Douglas should have scored the Oscar for his performance.
In 1960, Douglas’ career would go from great to iconic and it took three little words…”I am Spartacus“. Taking the titular role and serving as executive producer, Spartacus was a major hit at the box office and three years, he scored the rights to the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and brought it on stage in 1963 for five months. With hopes to make a film version, he would eventually give the rights to his son, Michael Douglas, who would make the film in 1975, itself an iconic film for Jack Nicholson.
From 1970 to 2008, Kirk Douglas would sporadically appear in many films, from comedies like Greedy (1994) to horror films like The Fury (1978) to dramas like Inherit the Wind (1988) and went against all odds even after suffering a stroke in the late 1990s. Finally, he ended his career in 2009 with a film, Empire State Building Murders, and an autobiographical one-man show, Before I Forget, which he performed on stage at his namesake theaters in California. He would become a blogger and philanthropist throughout his life.
Douglas is survived by his second wife, Anne, whom he married in 1954 and three children, Michael, Joel, and Peter; and seven grandchildren. He is preceded in death by son Eric Douglas, who died in 2004.
WorldFilmGeek sends its condolences to the family of Kirk Douglas. As a final tribute, here’s Kirk, Michael J. Fox, and Nancy Travis in the comedy Greedy.
Rest in Peace, the iconic Kirk Douglas.