Kirk Douglas Overview:

Legendary actor, Kirk Douglas, was born Issur Danielovitch Demsky on Dec 9, 1916 in Amsterdam, NY. Douglas died at the age of 103 on Feb 5, 2020 in Beverly Hills, CA .

Early Life

Kirk Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch on December 9, 1916 in Amsterdam, New York. As the son of Jewish immigrants, Douglas and his family struggled with anti-semitism and poverty throughout his childhood life.  In hopes of seeming more assimilated, the family changed their last name to Demsky and Douglas went by "Izzy." Unfortunately, the change did not help much and his father was denied basic employment, forced to work as junk dealer to provide for his family. Kirk also held a series of odd jobs such as selling snacks and a paperboy to help support his family. He found his love of acting while in high school, often performing in his school's stage productions. After graduating, Douglas attended St. Lawrence University, working multiple labour jobs to finance his education. He continued to perform in University stage production and also became a star on the school's wrestling team. Upon graduating with a degree in English, Douglas was offered a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts where he was classmates with Lauren Bacall. After graduating, Douglas made his Broadway debut in Spring Again, playing a telegraph boy. He then put his acting aspirations to the side to enlist in the U.S Navy following the outbreak of WWII as a communications officer. By this time he had officially changed his name to Kirk Douglas. He was medically discharged in 1944 following a series of war injuries.

Early Career

Returning from the war, Douglas married his college sweetheart, Diana Dill, and continued to build his acting career. He toiled in radio and TV commercials, hoping to get his out there. In 1945 Douglas played the role of Lenny Archer in the F. Hugh Herbert penned play Kiss and Tell. Douglas was well received well by the Critics and soon began to receive more substantial roles such as Steve in the Jack Daniel's 1945 production of Alice in Arms. With his star on the rise, Douglas was content to stay on the stage if not for his former classmate, Laruen Bacall. Director Hal B. Wallis wanted fresh young talent for his next film The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, and Bacall suggested Douglas. Impressed with the young man, Wallis immediate cast him as one the films leading men.


In 1946 Douglas made his feature film debut in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers opposite Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin. Douglas received good reviews and more substantial roles soon followed. He teamed with Burt Lancaster for their first of eight collaborations in his next film I Walk Alone. In 1949 Douglas starred in film noir Champion as the unscrupulous and egocentric boxer Midge Kelly which helped to create his tough, cocky and egocentric screen persona. For his work, Douglas received his first Academy Award nomination. Now in high demand Douglas began working tirelessly. Later that year, Douglas made his Broadway Debut in the Anton Chekhov play Three Sisters. In 1950 he starred in the first filmic adaption of the Tennessee Williams play The Glass Menagerie, earning rave reviews. The next year he starred in three films: Billy wilders's Ace in the Hole, William Wyler's Detective Story, and Felix E. Feist The Big Trees. In 1952 year Douglas began his first of four collaborations with director Vincent Minnelli with the show business melodrama, The Bold and Beautiful. In the film, Douglas plays the ruthless megalomaniac of a studio producer, Jonathon Shield, who manipulates all those around him to gain further control and power. The film was a smash hit, with both critics and audience's singing it's praises. None received more praise than Douglas, who was nominated for yet another Academy Award. The next year, he and Minnelli The Story of Three Loves.

Douglas continued his tireless pace, starring in three more films in 1953 including another collaboration with Vincent Minnelli. In 1954 he starred with James Mason and Peter Lorre in the big screen adaption of the Jules Verne classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The next year he starred in the King Vidor Western Man Without a Star as dejected cowboy Dempsey Rae. In 1956 he once again teamed with Vincent Minnelli for Lust for Life, a biopic on tragic artist Vincent van Gogh.  Douglas intensely visceral portrayal of the renowned tortured artist earned him a golden globe nomination and yet another Oscar nod. In 1957 he starred opposite Burt Lancaster'sWyatt Earp as Doc Holliday in Gunfight at OK Corral and in Stanley Kubrick's war film Paths of Glory.

Continued Success

He would work with Kubrick again in 1960, producing and playing the title role in the star studded historical epic Spartacus. Douglas, who at this point welded incredible power in Hollywood, specifically chose Kubrick after his dissatisfaction with the film's initial direction, Anthony Mann. The film was immensely successful at the box office and with critics, gaining nominated for six Academy Awards. It also remained Universal Studios highest grossed film until 1970. The film is also noted for giving screen credit to black listed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, essentially ending the communist witch-hunt that had been plaguing Hollywood for the last decade. In 1962 Douglas starred opposite Gena Rowlands and Walter Matthau in the David Miller Western Lonely are the Brave. His performance as the fugitive John "Jack" Burns earned his a BAFTA nomination. The next year he acquired the rights to the Ken Kesey novel One Flew Over the Cockoo's Nest and stared in it's Broadway adaptation. Next he starred opposite Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner in John Frankenheimer's Seven Days in May. He continued to star in Westerns and WWII films through out the mid-sixties in films such as 1966's Cast a Giant Shadow and 1967's The War Wagon.

Career Decline

As the end of the decade approached, the collective taste of the movie going audience began to change and the larger-than-life, tough-guy image Douglas had spend years cultivating was no longer in vogue. His next two films, The Brotherhood and The Arrangement flopped, with Douglas losing his clout at the box office. In 1971 he starred opposite Johnny Cash in the singers film debut A Gunfight. The next year he starred in the forgettable The Masters Touch. In 1973, Douglas made his directorial debut with the family western, Scalawag. The film was combination western, pirate, musical adventure that didn't resonate with audiences or critics. His next directing credit would come two years later with the western Posse, in which he also starred. The film, true to the actor's roots, was more successful than his previous attempt. He once again teamed with Burt Lancaster to star in the Television war drama Victory at Entebbe.

Later Life

In the 1980's Douglas  starred mainly in Television movies or support in his theatrical release. In 1985 he starred in the title role of the television movie Amos. In the film, Douglas plays an elderly man in the care of cruel adult-care nurse in this fictional expose on the nursing care system. As a result, Douglas became an activist for the cause of elderly rights and abuse, even going so far as to testify before congress on the issue. The next year he starred with Burt Lancaster, spoofing their own tough-guy images in the comedy Tough Guys. The next year he received the National Board of Review's Career Achievement Award. In 1988 he published his memoir The Ragman's Son. The book was a hit and immediate hit the"best sellers" list. Showing a knack for writing, he continued to explore this talent and released his first novel, Dance with the Devil, in 1990 and his second, The Secret, in 1992.

In 1996 Douglas suffered a debilitating strokes, impairing his ability to speak. The injury forced him to suspend his acting career. That same year, Douglas was presented with an honorary Oscar by the Academy and made emotional acceptance speech despite his impaired ability to talk. In 2000, he received the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2003, Douglas appeared with his son, Michael, and daughter, Cameron, on screen for the first time It Runs in the Family, as a dysfunction New York family. As of now Douglas's last performance was in film-noir tribute Empire State Building Murders. The film also features Mickey Rooney and Cyd Charisse.

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).



Although Douglas was nominated for three Oscars, he never won a competitive Academy Award. However he won one Honorary Oscar Award in 1995 for fifty years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community .

Academy Awards

YearAwardFilm nameRoleResult
1949Best ActorChampion (1949)Midge KellyNominated
1952Best ActorThe Bad and the Beautiful (1952)Jonathan ShieldsNominated
1956Best ActorLust for Life (1956)Vincent Van GoghNominated

Academy Awards (Honorary Oscars)

1995Honorary Awardfor fifty years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community


He was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures. Kirk Douglas's handprints and footprints were 'set in stone' at Grauman's Chinese Theater during imprint ceremony #121 on Nov 1, 1962. In addition, Douglas was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum .

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Kirk Douglas Quotes:

Rick Martin: I don't understand a word you're saying, but I love the sound of your voice.

[In order to rescue Wes, Johnny must defeat Gray Wolf to a fight to the death]
Wes Todd: What does that mean?
Johnny Hawks: I gotta fight him for your hide.
Wes Todd: What happens if you lose?
Johnny Hawks: Well, my troubles will be over... yours will just begin.

Lomax: KD: Oh great, just great. I'm out a hundred thousand of my share, two thousand from Levi...
[to Levi who is riding off towards the Indians sifting through the barrels of flour where Taw's gang has hidden the gold dust]
Lomax: Where are you going?
Levi Walking Bear: Back to my people.
Lomax: Now what am I supposed to do, live with the Indians for the next year and open up a bakery? And with Pierce dead, it doesn't even pay to kill you any more!

read more quotes from Kirk Douglas...

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Honorary Award Oscar 1995

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Kirk Douglas Facts
He had both knees replaced in 2005, against the advice of his doctors. The operation was a success.

Kirk has celebrated his Bar Mitzvah twice. Once, obviously, when he was 13 years old and the other time when he was 83 years old.

He and Burt Lancaster acted together in 7 movies: Victory at Entebbe (1976) (TV), Tough Guys (1986), Seven Days in May (1964), The List of Adrian Messenger (1963), I Walk Alone (1948), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) and The Devil's Disciple (1959).

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