Kirk Douglas may be well into his centenary year but his legendary staying power shows little sign of diminishing. Social media is the latest place to find news of the veteran star’s life, courtesy of grandson Cameron.
He posted a photo on Instagram which showed the great man enjoying the outdoor life in a tent. Lying on a mattress with a lush green view outside, the image proves there’s more to old age than mashed banana and bingo. “This amazing man, my Pappy, is such inspiration in so many ways!” Cameron writes. “Going camping at 102!”
It’s the latest in a series of proud remarks made by the Douglas clan online. Last December Catherine Zeta-Jones shared nostalgic pictures with the message “Happy 102nd birthday to the most beautiful man. We love you Kirk.”
Meanwhile, her equally famous husband and Kirk’s son Michael paid touching tribute when receiving his star at a recent Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony. As quoted by People Magazine, he said: “Thank you for your advice, inspiration, and I’ll say it simply and with all my heart: I’m so proud to be your son.”
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for the actor and that iconic dimpled chin. He was born into poverty in Amsterdam, New York, where according to a 2017 Guardian profile he and his Russian-Jewish family were “so poor that he regularly went hungry until his mid-20s.” Changing his name from Izzy Demsky, his success in show business was entirely down to self-belief, quick-wittedness and sheer determination. He reportedly had over 40 regular jobs before his rise to the top.
Once there, he developed a reputation as a powerful leading man. The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954), Lust For Life (where he played Vincent Van Gogh, 1956) and of course Spartacus (1960) put him on the movie map permanently.
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His behavior could be challenging at times — Richard Fleischer, who worked extensively with Douglas, immortalized certain incidents in a 1993 autobiography Just Tell Me When To Cry. These included Douglas’ constant attempts to be in the middle of a shot. Tensions seemed to flare between them during production of The Vikings (1958).
Quoted by The Independent following his death in 2006, he said “In the long run, it was worth putting up with his browbeating and petty tyrannies, since the picture turned out a great critical and commercial success and did both of us a lot of good.”
Douglas also had friendships with Burt Lancaster and John Wayne, two other stars with a penchant for causing trouble onset. His relationship with Michael was reportedly strained but mellowed once his son’s acting career began, something his father initially warned him against.
Michael followed in his father’s footsteps in an unexpected way when he produced an adaptation of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Kirk, who’d long wanted to star in a movie version, was surprised to hear that he was too old to play McMurphy. The Guardian reported his reaction to his replacement as: “Jack Nicholson? Never heard of him. Well, at least it will be a flop…”
He has been happily married to fellow philanthropist Anne Buydens (who is 99) since 1954. He became a writer later in life, releasing novels and memoirs.
He famously recovered from a stroke in 1996 and still gives interviews. The Guardian commented “When Douglas starts talking not even the muffling layers of age can hide his still charmingly boyish personality.”
“I never, ever thought I would live to be 100,” he revealed at the time. “That’s shocked me, really.” It may have surprised him. Everyone else thought the news entirely fitting for one of the silver screen’s true originals.