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Friday 24 March 2023 Dublin: 11°C
# Spartacus
Hollywood's 'rags to riches' icon Kirk Douglas turns 100 today
The Spartacus star has been through a lot – including a plane crash and being robbed of the ability to speak following a stroke.

Kirk Douglas Portrait Session AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

KIRK DOUGLAS, WHOSE illustrious career has taken in some of cinema’s landmark roles, turns 100 today – attributing his remarkable longevity to his “wonderful marriage” of more than six decades.

The iconic actor revealed in a special essay to mark the milestone that his second wife Anne, 97, had been his inspiration in rebounding from adversity over the years.

“I was lucky enough to find my soulmate 63 years ago, and I believe our wonderful marriage and our nightly ‘golden hour’ chats have helped me survive all things,” he writes in celebrity magazine Closer Weekly.

The three-time Oscar nominee will celebrate with 200 friends and family at a party in California hosted by his son Michael and daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta Jones.

Children at Heart Gala - New York EMPICS Entertainment Kirk Douglas, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Michael Douglas. EMPICS Entertainment

The star, who was forced to retire because of speech problems after a stroke, has practiced delivering a few words on the day with the help of a speech therapist.

“I am always asked for advice on living a long and healthy life. I don’t have any. I do believe, however, that we have a purpose for being here,” he says.

“I was spared after a helicopter crash and a stroke to do more good in the world before I leave it.”

Douglas, the son of illiterate Russian immigrants, appeared in some of cinema’s most iconic roles, from slave Spartacus and painter Vincent van Gogh to Western legend Doc Holliday.

He was in more than 80 movies but, unlike stars of younger generations, never took a role in a sequel.

He once said of his fame, that “when you become famous, you don’t change. Everyone else does.”


I tell my sons they didn’t have my advantages growing up. I came from abject poverty. There was nowhere to go but up.

Kirk Douglas Spartacus Spartacus (1960) I'm Spartacus. Spartacus (1960)

Born Issur Danielovitch in poverty in New York to a Jewish father and Protestant mother, Douglas went to the city’s Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Champion (1949) earned him the first of three Oscar nominations for best actor, an award that has eluded him but was finally snared by his son Michael for “Wall Street” (1987).

In a way it’s his own fault, as he once said that he wants his sons to surpass him, “because that’s a form of immortality”.

Among his most famous films were 1956 Van Gogh biopic “Lust for Life,” “Gunfight at the OK Corral” (1957), “Spartacus” (1960) and “Seven Days in May” (1964).

Douglas’s first marriage to American actress Diana Webster produced sons Michael and Joel before it ended in divorce in 1951.

Three years later he married Belgian-American Anne Buydens, who once wrote of Douglas: “Living with my husband is like sitting in a beautiful garden right next to a volcano that may erupt at any moment.”

The couple would go on to have two sons, Eric and Peter.

Kirk Douglas Portrait Session AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

“One hundred years old is certainly a milestone, but the facts are what dad has accomplished in 100 years,” Michael Douglas writes in the Closer Weekly article.

“I think his stamina and tenacity are the qualities that stand out for me,” he continues. “He has taught me always to give it your best shot at whatever you take on. He’s the full package.”

Jewish faith

The Douglas family has been touched by its fair share of tragedy and disaster over the years.

Eric, also an actor, died from a lethal combination of alcohol and prescription drugs at the age of just 46 in 2004, after years battling addiction.

Kirk had already been deeply shaken by a mid-air collision between his helicopter and an airplane over California in 1991 that killed two people, prompting him to rediscover his Jewish faith.

His 1996 stroke robbed him of the ability to speak entirely, although he managed to make a partial recovery after months of therapy.

People-Kirk Douglas AP / Press Association Images Kirk Douglas and his wife Anne Douglas have donated $15 million toward a Motion Picture Television Fund campus in Woodland Hills, California, to help build a care center for Hollywood industry members suffering from Alzheimer's disease. AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

As his health limited his film roles, Douglas and his wife turned increasingly to philanthropy, and have expressed their intention to give most of their fortune to charity on their deaths.

The couple have rebuilt 400 school playgrounds in Los Angeles and were behind the establishment of “Harry’s Haven,” an Alzheimer’s unit named after Kirk’s father at the Motion Picture and Television Fund Home in Woodland Hills, California.

Double Golden Globe winner and lifelong friend Angie Dickinson shared a bedroom scene with the legend in “Cast a Giant Shadow” (1966), which required the pair to be naked.

“You couldn’t ask for more than you get with Kirk,” the 85-year-old actress, an ex-wife of legendary composer Burt Bacharach, told AFP.

“He’s just a perfect man, I must say. Everything he does is perfect.”

- © AFP, 2016

Read: People have fallen in love with this Dun Laoghaire newsagent on Humans of Dublin

Read: One of the key people in the making of modern Ireland turns 100 today

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