With a list of credits to his name, longer than my arm Kirk Douglas has had a career any actor would be envious of. For me, when I think of Kirk Douglas the first thing that comes to mind is Spartacus the 1960 film that stands the test of time to this day. In Spartacus, directed by Stanley Kubrick, Douglas played the slave Spartacus who leads a revolt against the Roman empire. He played alongside two other great actors of the era Tony Curtis and Laurence Olivier. The film was a major success at the time and is still considered one of the great epic films of the era. For the film, Douglas made sure that writer Dalton Trumbo received proper billing under his name instead of a pen name. Trumbo at the time was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Although Douglas’s involvement in this has been disputed by Trumbo’s family.

kirk douglas tribute

Born December 9th, 1916 as Issur Danielovitch in Amsterdam to Jewish parents Herschel “Harry” Danielovitch and Bryna. The family, including six siblings, moved to the US while he was still young and was extremely poor. Herschel worked as a ragman buying old rags, pieces of metal, and junk for pennies, nickels, and dimes. Kirk had numerous jobs including selling snacks to mill workers to help his family.

Kirk legally changed his name from Issur to Kirk Douglas before joining the US Navy during World War II. He served as a communications officer until they discharged him for medical reasons in 1944, due to injuries sustained from the accidental dropping of a depth charge.

After the war, Douglas returned to New York City and found work in radio and theater. It was his friend Lauren Bacall that encouraged him to audition for the film The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946). He was offered the part of Walter O’Neil in the film and it wasn’t long before he became a bankable Hollywood star. Eventually staring in great films such as Champion (1950), as the boxer Midge in which he received his first of three Oscar nominations. His portrait as a boxer in the film earned him the tough guy image he would be known for throughout his career.

In 1955 he would form his own production company Bryna Productions to have more control over his projects.

Through the 50s and ‘60s, he was considered one of Hollywood’s top stars appearing his films with all the greats of the era including Lauren Bacall, Doris Day, Walter Matthau, Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, Laurence Olivier, John Wayne, and so many more. He continued to star in the theatre as well, staring in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest a play that he bought the rights to with the intention of also star in the movie, but due to delays in producing the film, by the time it was made in 1975 Douglas was too old for the role of RP McMurphy that went to Jack Nicholson.

Throughout his career he continued to perform in roles ranging from westerns, dramas, comedies, and even doing a voice on the Simpsons for an episode. His final role was in the doc-crime-drama Empire State Building Murders (2008).

He was often considered a difficult person to work with over the years and even bragged about it saying, “I’m probably the most disliked actor in Hollywood. And I feel pretty good about it”

Kirk Douglas is now resting in alongside many other greats in the Westwood Village Memorial Park and Mortuary.

December 9, 1916 – February 5, 2020