Kirk Douglas, icon of Hollywood's 'Golden Age,' dies at 103

By Zach Harper

Kirk Douglas, icon of Hollywood's 'Golden Age,' dies at 103

Hollywood is in mourning as Kirk Douglas, a giant of cinema and star of such films as Spartacus, has died at 103.

The news was announced by actor Michael Douglas, the star's eldest son, on Instagram on Feb. 5.

"It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas has left us today at the age of 103," Michael wrote. "To the world, he was a legend, an actor of 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."

Actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is married to Michael, also paid tribute to her father-in-law on Instagram.

"To my darling Kirk, I shall love you for the rest of my life," she wrote, sharing a black-and-white photo of her giving the late star a kiss. "I miss you already. Sleep tight..."

Born Issur Danielovitch in Amsterdam, N.Y. on Dec. 9, 1916, Kirk was the son of Jewish immigrants from what is now Belarus who later adopted the surname Demsky. Kirk later changed his name to the one that made him famous before joining the U.S. Navy in World War II.

Kirk speaks at a Spartacus anniversary event at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood in 2012. Photo: © Amanda Edwards/WireImage

Kirk had a difficult childhood and experienced poverty from an early age, which eventually motivated his drive to success.

"My father, who had been a horse trader in Russia, got himself a horse and a small wagon, and became a ragman, buying old rags, pieces of metal, and junk for pennies, nickels and dimes," Kirk wrote in The Ragman's Son, his 1988 autobiography. "Even on Eagle Street, in the poorest section of town, where all the families were struggling, the ragman was the lowest rung on the ladder. And I was the ragman's son."

Kirk eventually discovered he had a natural talent for acting when he appeared in plays as a high schooler. Determined to be a star, he later enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, where he met Lauren Bacall and his first wife, Diana Dill.

Kirk and Diana married in 1943 and welcomed two sons, Michael and Joel. The couple later went on to divorce in 1951 before Kirk remarried, getting hitched to producer Anne Buydens in 1954. She and Kirk had two sons: Peter, born in 1955, and Eric, born in 1958. They remained married until his death, and Anne is currently 100 years old.

Kirk in his screen debut, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, with Barbara Stanwyck in 1946. Photo: © John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Kirk picked up his first paid gigs doing advertisements in New York City. His friendship with Lauren helped him land his screen debut in 1946, in which he starred in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers alongside Barbara Stanwyck. That led to another role in Out of the Past alongside Robert Mitchum, and eventually his biggest job to date in Champion, in which he played a boxer. He was nominated for an Academy Award for the role.

His career continued to thrive throughout the 1950s, gradually taking on parts that were much more serious, such as The Bad and the Beautiful, in which he played a sociopathic film producer. Many more films followed before Paths of Glory in 1957, one of Stanley Kubrick's first films. He worked with the director again on Spartacus three years later.

Kirk starred alongside Jeanne Simmons in Spartacus in 1960. Photo: © Mondadori via Getty Images

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Kirk became known for his tough-guy style and no-nonsense approach to work and being on set.

"I'm probably the most disliked actor in Hollywood," he told People in 1988. "And I feel pretty good about it. Because that's me… I was born aggressive, and I guess I'll die aggressive."

Kirk had several brushes with death. In 1991, a helicopter in which he was travelling in crashed into a small plane just outside Santa Paula, Calif. Two people in the plane died. Kirk suffered a stroke in 1996, which caused difficulties with his speech. Nevertheless, he was determined to continue in the movie industry, and underwent therapy to re-learn the skill, and received a standing ovation at the 2018 Golden Globes when he was 101 years old.

Kirk helped honour Michael with a Hollywood Walk of Fame star in 2018. Photo: © VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images

Kirk was also known for his philanthropy during his lifetime. He helped repair more than 400 Los Angeles school playgrounds, along with many in Jerusalem. He and Anne helped found the Anne Douglas Center for Homeless Women in Los Angeles, and also donated millions to Alzheimer's research, the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, St. Lawrence University in New York state, and the Aish Center in Jerusalem.

To say he was a legend really does not adequately sum it up. He leaves a legacy that few will ever equal, and he will be sorely missed.

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