Hollywood great Kirk Douglas passed away as a much-beloved figure when he left us at the age of 103. He. The expression “end of an era” is frequently applied but in Douglas’s case, it was 100 percent true!
Here, we’ll take a look back at this esteemed man and learn about a new initiative Kirk Douglas’s family is taking to honor his life and work.
This inspiring and charismatic star from Tinseltown’s Golden Age had a career spanning seven decades. Not only did he make his mark on the movie screen, he helped raise a show business dynasty. Surviving sons Michael, Joel, and Peter all followed in their beloved father’s footsteps. Eric Douglas sadly passed in 2004 at 46.
Upon his death, the family led tributes to this towering talent. Taking to Instagram, Michael described Kirk as “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. But to me and my brothers Joel and Peter he was simply Dad, to Catherine, a wonderful father-in-law, to his grandchildren and great grandchild their loving grandfather, and to his wife Anne, a wonderful husband.”
Anne Buydens married Douglas in 1954. Catherine is of course Catherine Zeta-Jones, who wrote, “I shall love you for the rest of my life. I miss you already.”
“Let me end with the words I told him on his last birthday and which will always remain true,” Michael concluded. “Dad- I love you so much and I am so proud to be your son.”
Early years and getting his start in acting
Born in New York 1916, his real name was Issur Danielovitch. Raised in poverty, his parents were Herschel and Bryna. Douglas never forgot his roots, calling his production company Bryna and titling his 1988 autobiography The Ragman’s Son.
Overcoming prejudice and relying on his wits, he soon appeared on the silver screen. Among his most famous roles were “Midge” Kelly in the boxing drama Champion (1949), movie producer Jonathan Shields in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), and Vincent Van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956). For all these movies he received Academy Award nominations. Eventually, he received a Lifetime Achievement Oscar. He was also given the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
‘Not a tough guy’
“I never thought I’d live to 100,” he told The Guardian in 2017. “I was not a tough guy [in real life], I just acted like one.” That’s an interesting remark, given arguably his best-known role Spartacus. In that production, he was heroic both in front of camera and behind the scenes. Lauded for his decision to employ blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, the title character’s rallying cry of “I am Spartacus!” proved significant. Even today that iconic line is repeated around the world.
Kirk was acting in films up until 2004. He developed a successful writing career and became a keen philanthropist. Away from Hollywood stories of high drama, his own life was something of a nail-biter.
Philanthropy was important to Douglas
Looking back, USA Today wrote that in addition to physical injuries, “the emotional impact stayed with Douglas for his lifetime. Besides honoring the two men who had died, the actor was spurred to make changes in his life, especially in terms of stepping up his philanthropic work… During one discussion with a psychiatrist, Douglas remembered a poem he had written as a young man, ‘Life is a lock and death the only key.’ The accident put the words he had written into context.”
He suffered a stroke in 1996 and later wrote a book about his recovery, My Stroke of Luck. The picture of Kirk Douglas in more recent years was of a devoted family man who achieved an extraordinary amount and who was grateful for his lot.
The Douglas Foundation
His family has continued to share his legacy in many ways. One, in particular, is through the Douglas Foundation, which was created in 1964 by Kirk and his wife Anne. They founded it with the express purpose of making “eduction, healthcare, and the arts more accessible to the citizens of California.” Their legacy of funding continues through Douglas’s son Michael.
He has taken on the role of one of the trustees. Since 1964, the Douglas Foundation has provided financial aid to over 200 organizations, totaling over $118,000,000. Douglas once said, “As long as we have the capacity to give, we are alive,” a statement that couldn’t ring more true of his legacy through this organization.
According to the younger Douglas, several million of their overall donations were made in the years following the death of Kirk and Anne. As well as financing charitable organizations in need, the Douglas Foundation now also manages an Archive containing personal memorabilia from the couple. In 2023, over 10,000 incredible items were made available from Anne’s private collection.
They included photos, letters, and other documents that Michael personally collected from her various storage locations after her death. He remarked that “She saved everything!” While it is relatively easy to digitize some documents, older artifacts can be much more difficult. Michael came up with a unique solution. He contacted Israeli photographer Ardon Bar-Hama, who created a special camera that could capture high-quality images of incredibly fragile items.
In fact, he is best known as the man who digitized the Dead Sea Scrolls on behalf of the Vatican, and for his work on the collections of Nelson Mandela and Albert Einstein. He has now added the personal collection of Anne Douglas to his repertoire. The Douglas Archive is easily accessible online, and the contents have been broken down into many categories.
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These categories include ‘Kirk and Anne,’ ‘Movies,’ ‘Philanthropy,’ ‘Hollywood,’ ‘World Affairs,’ and ‘Press.’ Anne carefully documented her husband’s career throughout the years, and now the public can easily watch it unfold before their very eyes, showing that Douglas was far more than just a Hollywood star.