No, he is not dead, as People Magazine announced. Cleft-chinned and steely-eyed American superstar Kirk Douglas (1916) lives!
Kirk Douglas was born as ‘the ragman’s son’ (the name of his 1988 autobiography) known as Issur Danielovitch Demsky, in Amsterdam, New York, in 1916. His parents, Bryna (Sanglel) and Herschel Danielovitch, were Jewish immigrants from Chavusy, Mahilyow Voblast (now in Belarus). Although growing up in a poor ghetto, Douglas was a fine student and wrestled competitively during his time at St. Lawrence University. He gained entry into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, but only appeared in a handful of minor Broadway productions before joining the US Navy in 1941. In 1945, he returned to the theatre and some radio work. On the insistence of ex-classmate Lauren Bacall producer Hal B. Wallis screen-tested Douglas and cast him opposite Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (Lewis Milestone, 1946) . His performance received rave reviews and further work quickly followed, including an appearance in the Film-Noir I walk alone(Byron Haskin, 1948). It was the first time he worked alongside Burt Lancaster. They appeared in seven films together, including the dynamic western Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (John Sturges, 1957), the John Frankenheimer political thriller Seven Days in May (1964) and their final pairing in the gangster comedy Tough Guys (Jeff Kanew, 1986).
Douglas scored his first Oscar nomination playing the untrustworthy and opportunistic boxer Midge Kelly in the gripping The Champion (Mark Robson, 1949). The quality of his work continued to garner the attention of critics and he was again nominated for Oscars for his role as a film producer in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) and as tortured painter Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956), both directed by Vincente Minnelli. In 1955 Douglas launched his own production company, Bryna Productions, the company behind two pivotal film roles in his career. The first was as French army officer Col. Dax in director Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant anti-war epic Paths of Glory (1957). Douglas reunited with Kubrick for yet another epic, the magnificent Spartacus (1960). The film also marked a key turning point in the life of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who had been blacklisted during the McCarthy communist witchhunt in the 1950s. At Douglas’ insistence Trumbo was given on-screen credit for his contributions, which began the dissolution of the infamous blacklisting policies begun almost a decade previously that had destroyed so many careers and lives.
Douglas remained busy throughout the 1960s, starring in many films. He played a rebellious modern-day cowboy in Lonely Are the Brave (David Miller, 1962), acted alongside John Wayne in the World War II story In Harm’s Way (Otto Preminger, 1965), and in the tongue-in-cheek Western The War Wagon (Burt Kennedy, 1967). On stage, he starred in 1963 in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, but no Hollywood studio could be convinced to bring the story to the screen. Kirk’s son Michael Douglas finally filmed the tale in 1975, starring Jack Nicholson. Into the 1970s, Douglas wasn’t as busy as previous years. His films included the Western comedy The Villain (Hal Needham, 1979) with Arnold Schwarzenegger,the sci-fi thriller Saturn 3 (Stanley Donen, 1980) and the Australian Western The Man from Snowy River (George Miller, 1982). Douglas has long been involved in humanitarian causes and has been a Goodwill Ambassador for the US State Department since 1963. France honoured him with the Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. Despite a helicopter crash and a stroke suffered in the 1990s, he remains active and continues to appear in front of the camera.
Sources: firehouse44 (IMDb), and IMDb.
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