One of the most renowned actors of the 20th century was Kirk Douglas. The native of New York came from a difficult upbringing, but despite attempts by others to put him down, he never gave in and pursued his career in his own way.
At the age of 103, Douglas passed away in February 2020, but his memory will endure forever. He built a lovely family, raised children, and returned favors to those who had always supported him as he rose to fame as an actor and worked alongside some of the finest.
Kirk Douglas had amassed a fortune by the time of his death. But according to reports, none of his children—including actor Michael Douglas—received even a single cent. Why? Here is everything you need know.
Douglas was up in a large household of seven children, the only son of Russian Jewish immigrants. Growing up was difficult for Douglas. He claimed that his family lived in an unheated clapboard house on a “block of destitute folks,” where they were the poorest household.
Hershel Douglas, Kirk Douglas’ father, became a junk dealer because he was unable to work at the nearby mills because he was Jewish.
“Even on Eagle Street, in the poorest section of town, where all the families were struggling, the ragman was on the lowest rung on the ladder,” Mr. Douglas wrote in his best-selling autobiography. “And I was the ragman’s son.”
Sometimes, the family didn’t even have food, making Douglas steal food from his neighbors or even produce stands.
As he described in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, growing up in Amsterdam, New York meant “living in the East End, the opposite side of town from the rich people on Market Hill. It meant living at 46 Eagle Street, a run-down, two-story, gray clapboard house, the last house at the bottom of a sloping street, next to the factories, the railroad tracks, and the Mohawk River.”
Because he was Jewish, Kirk Douglas was frequently made fun of and even attacked by neighborhood gangs. Douglas, though, was unfazed by it and instead put in a lot of effort to support his family and improve his own life.
He guessed that he worked at roughly 40 different occupations, ranging from dishwasher to newspaper boy.
“I also was a hard worker. I’d invent jobs, like selling soda and candy to workers at the mill at the end of our street. Amsterdam was one of the largest mill towns in the country. There were dozens of factories but no jobs for Jews.”
When Kirk Douglas initially developed an interest in theater, he was a student at Wilbur Lynch High School, which is now Amsterdam High School. He engaged in all types of theatre events, received encouragement from his English instructor Louise Livingston, and was given an introduction to the world of poetry.
“I would have been run out of town if I had ever admitted to liking poetry or said out loud, ‘I want to be a great actor.’ Because of her, I sent away for college and drama school catalogs and saved every penny so I could get there,” Douglas reminisced.
“Mrs. Livingston was cool and detached when she walked into the classroom. She never raised her well-modulated voice. Emotion crept in only when she read poetry. She thought I was wonderful. She encouraged me and kept me after school. What a sparkle came into her eyes as she read poem after poem with me sitting by her side.”
Despite Kirk Douglas’ best efforts, he was unable to save enough money for his tuition. In order to get to St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, he made the brave decision to hitchhike 200 miles.
Douglas had all of his high school honors, transcripts, poetry, and a letter of recommendation from his teacher, Mrs. Livingston, with him. He was able to persuade the faculty dean to grant him a scholarship after securing a meeting with him.
Kirk worked as an actor at the Tamarack Playhouse on Lake Pleasant throughout the summer. And it was there that he decided to adopt the name Kirk Douglas.
“One day, a few of my friends insisted I needed a more American name. Someone suggested Douglas,” he recalled. “My new first name took longer. Someone finally said, Kirk. My new name sounded masculine and strong.”
Douglas perfected his craft as an actor, and in 1941, he earned his first Broadway role in the musical Spring Again. He continued to get more roles on Broadway, but before his big breakthrough, world events changed everything.
World War II arrived, and Kirk Douglas decided to sign up right away. He said he felt “a wave of patriotism and a wave of Jewishness” and decided to enlist as an Army pilot, but ended up working as a communication officer on a submarine.
However, in 1943, an accident on one of the submarines left Kirk Douglas hospitalized with injuries. After being diagnosed with amoebic dysentery, he was discharged from the Navy as a junior grade lieutenant.
He went back to the US and continued to pursue his career in show business. However, because of an illness, his singing voice was destroyed, and it could’ve ended Kirk Douglas’ career. But as we all know, it didn’t. At one of his shows, a Hollywood producer named Hal Willis saw him and cast him in his 1946 film The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers.
After that, Kirk Douglas never looked back – and became a Hollywood legend. He got his big breakthrough three years later as he starred as a boxer Midge Kelly in the 1949 film Boxer. It earned him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Douglas earned two more Academy Award nominations – for The Bad and the Beautiful in 1952 and Lust for Life in 1956 – but he never won a competitive Oscar for his performances. However, in 1996, he was awarded an honorary Oscar for “50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community.”
By the 1950s, Kirk Douglas had already been married once. Between 1943 and 1951, he was married to actress and model Diana Dill, and they welcomed children Joel and Michael Douglas.
Just three years later, the then well-respected actor was to meet the love of his life, to whom he stayed married to for the rest of his life.
When filming in Paris, Kirk met Anne Buydens for the first time. She assisted with the press, and Douglas became very interested in her. However, his attempts to try and impress her weren’t successful at first.
“I had been a big movie star with two Oscar nominations by the time I met Anne, and I believed that any woman would be flattered if I asked her out,” he recalled. “Anne was the one who turned me down,” Kirk Douglas recalled.
It turned out that Anne had her reasons.
“Of course, he was charming and sexy, but I had seen too many young women in Paris fall in love with American movie stars who went home to their lives and wives when their pictures wrapped,” she said. “I certainly didn’t want to be another location romance casualty. I had survived war in occupied Paris and knew instinctively how to protect myself from dangerous situations.”
In the end, Kirk found a way to get close to Anne. They started working together as he convinced her to do his publicity for his 1953 film Act of Love. The two fell in love, and in 1954, the couple tied the knot. They had two children in Peter and Eric Douglas.
All his sons went into the film business, with Michael Douglas becoming the most successful. The two-time Academy Award-winning actor starred in classics such as Wall Street, for which he won an Oscar playing Gordon Gecko, FallingDown, and Wonder Boys.
However, the relationship between son and father wasn’t always at its best. For example, when speaking with the Associated Press, Douglas refused to call his father “dad.”
“In those key years, when Kirk was doing five movies a year… Kirk was all-consumed, was overworked. Probably like myself at a certain time in my life.”
In 1975, Michael and Kirk Douglas’ rift became even more extensive. At the time, Kirk owned the rights to the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and his son convinced him to sell the rights.
However, once it was set to start filming, Michael – now the producer – didn’t cast his father in the lead role of Randle McMurphy, even though he had played the part on Broadway.
“So Michael asked me if he could try to produce it, and I said: ‘Sure!’ Next thing I know, he has a director lined up, and it’s all go. So I said to him: ‘Great! When do we start rehearsing?’” Kirk Douglas recalled.
“Not you, Dad,” Michael replied, devastatingly. “You’re too old.”
“I couldn’t believe it!” Douglas added. “So I said: ‘Who’s playing my part? Jack Nicholson? Never heard of him. Well, at least it will be a flop.”
Their relationship didn’t take a turn for the better as the film went on to sweep at the Academy Awards: as producer Michael Douglas took home an Oscar for Best Picture, and Jack Nicholson won Best Actor for his performance.
Kirk Douglas was the title star of the 1960 film Spartacus, which became one of his true classics. The film won four Academy Awards, and Kirk went straight to the top of the Hollywood ladder despite not winning an Oscar himself.
Over the years, Douglas starred in more than 90 Hollywood films. His last ever role was in 2008, when he appeared in the television film Empire State Building Murders.
Kirk Douglas was a true movie star from Hollywood’s golden age. Unfortunately, he passed away on February 5, 2020, at age 103.
At the time of his death, Kirk Douglas had an estimated fortune of $61 million. However, his son Michael Douglas and the rest of his family didn’t get a single penny, as he left a lifetime of donations to several causes.
Douglas distributed $50 million to St. Lawrence University, where he attended in his early life. The Sinai Temple of Westwood, the Kirk Douglas Theatre, and the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles also received a big chunk of the money.
Both Kirk and Anne have previously donated to the different institutions above through the Douglas Foundation. According to its website, the foundation’s purpose is “to help those who cannot otherwise help themselves.”
Michael Douglas won’t inherit any money from his father. But, at the same time, he won’t be needing it, as he’s said to be worth around $300 million.
Despite their previous rifts, Michael praised his father’s loving and charitable personality at the time of his passing.
“Kirk’s life was well-lived, and he leaves a legacy in film that will endure for generations to come and a history as a renowned philanthropist who worked to aid the public and bring peace to the planet,” Michael Douglas said in a statement.
Kirk Douglas overcame a poor and tough childhood and created his own path towards becoming a movie star of Hollywood’s golden age. May he rest in peace.
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