He came from a humble background, born to poor and illiterate Russian immigrants, but became a man with an $80 million fortune.
Veteran actor Kirk Douglas passed away on February 5, 2020 after celebrating his 103rd birthday about two months prior. For his last birthday, he didn't want a big bash but wanted to be surrounded by his family. He is survived by three sons and wife, Anne Buydens, aged 100, apart from his grandchildren.
The late actor, who was one of the last from the Golden Age of Hollywood, leaves behind a legacy that is being carried forward by his oldest son, Michael Douglas. While he was touted as Hollywood royalty in the later decades of his life, Kirk Douglas came from a humble background.
The Spartacus actor was born in the middle of World War I, in 1916, to poor, illiterate Russian Jewish immigrants in New York. At birth, he was named Issur Danielovitch, a name which he said sounded too "Semitic," according to People. Born a ragman's son and wished in later years that he should have kept his original name, which he had thought wouldn't have worked in Hollywood. "It’s more interesting to keep your original name. But can you imagine that name on a marquee?" the actor has said.
Behind the charisma, lay years of hard work and sheer talent. His life is often the topic of a true rags-to-riches story in Hollywood.
However, when he entered the industry, he wanted to create a distance from his family name. Kirk Douglas' father, who made a living reselling rags and scrap metal, was never supportive of his career choice. "My father was not very affectionate," the Act of Love actor said. "He was never interested in what I was doing. I had six sisters and no brothers and I wanted to be close to my father and he just ignored me."
He had been close to his mother and the emotional turmoil he had, he channeled into athletics. "I was always in pretty good shape. In college I was a wrestler and I made money in the summer working at a carnival," he said. When he didn't have enough money for tuition, he talked the dean at St. Lawrence University into giving him a loan, which he paid off by doing odd-jobs at the university.
He later joined the Navy and served until he was medically discharged for war injuries in 1944. He got his first break in acting thanks to actress Lauren Bacall, who recommended him for the 1946 film The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.
Known for his roles in hit movies like Bad and the Beautiful, Ace in the Hole, The Vikings, and of course, Spartacus, Douglas had more than 90 acting credits to his name, and 32 as a producer. No mean feat in an industry that had giants like Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and other greats of the studio era. He was known for having a mind of his own and not being afraid of speaking out, according to the Associated Press. He was honored with an honorary Oscar in 1996, and a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute, as well as another honorary Golden Globe and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
He met his first wife, Diana Dill, through Bacall, before he was discharged from the Navy. The couple married in 1943 and divorced in 1951 after having two kids, Michael and Joel.
Two years later, in 1953, he met Anne Buydens, the woman who remained by his side for seven decades. While it took him some time to realize his feelings for her, they finally married in 1954. He knew he would be "lost without her."
"She turned me down!" he told People. "But I was determined to win her over."
He kept her on her toes by surprising her constantly. Once, he jumped out of a fake birthday cake for her. “My husband likes to surprise me,” she said. The couple had two sons together, one of whom passed away before him.
Together, Kirk and Anne amassed immense wealth through their production company and later in life donated heavily for the causes they both believed in. Together, the couple had amassed $80 million through a trust set up by "smart" Buydens, who had been a producer when they met in Paris. They pledged $50 million to multiple institutions including his alma mater, St. Lawrence University.
The iconic couple gave back to the society by helping multiple causes, including the Children's Hospital Los Angeles and through Anne Douglas Center for Women, and their biggest passion, the Motion Picture & Television Fund, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
"Sometimes we didn't have enough to eat, but very often there would be a knock at the door and it would be a hobo wanting food, and my mother always gave them something. My mother said to me, 'You must take care of other people.' That stayed with me.'" the legendary actor had said.
The industry has lost one of the greatest actors and producers, who changed the face of Hollywood in his heyday. He died knowing that his family loved him and were proud to be part of his life.