Screencap of Kirk Douglas in his iconic 1960 role of Spartacus, December 9, 2017 – YouTube/Movieclips
CAIRO – 9 December 2017: Legendary Hollywood icon and philanthropist Kirk Douglas turns 101 today, December 9. Egypt Today celebrates the immense achievements of his long life and career.
Born as Issur Danielovitch in 1916, Douglas came from a Russian Jewish family who immigrated to Amsterdam, New York, where he was born. His family was poor, leaving Douglas to support them by performing various odd jobs as he grew up. The grand life of fame that awaited him in the future would have seemed like an impossible dream, though he still pushed on to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, thanks to his good grades that helped him land a scholarship.
His time studying at the Academy helped Douglas meet his life-long friend Lauren Bacall, who would prove to be instrumental in helping to kick start his career. Douglas’s debut as an actor came in Broadway in 1941, which he would continue to act in before enlisting in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and before being sent home due to injuries he suffered. Once back, he was advised to change his name, and Kirk Douglas came to be.
Bacall, already quite an accomplished actress, helped Douglas land the lead role in his first movie, 1946’s “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers”, where he starred alongside Barbara Stanwyck, and he would catch his big break in 1949’s “Champion”, where his performance as the ruthless boxer Midge Kelly earned him an Oscar nomination. Crowds were wowed, and Douglas had hit it big.
Rising to the top, Douglas would earn two more Academy Award nominations with “The Bad and the Beautiful” in 1952 and 1956's “Lust for Life”, where he portrayed famous artist Vincent Van Gogh and also won him the New York Critic’s Choice award.
Douglas had become so successful that he even founded his own production company, Bryna Productions, which he named after his mother. With this studio, the actor would star in his most legendary roles yet, including Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 masterpiece, “Spartacus”, where Douglas’s role as the titular Roman slave who leads an uprising became not only one of his signature performances, but one of the most iconic acting in all of Hollywood.
“Spartacus” also challenged Hollywood’s blacklisting of people over suspicion of Communist, as Douglas hired Dalton Trumbo, who went on to have a successful career as a screenwriter. Douglas would eventually try his hand as a writer and director, finding more success with his books than his movies. His 1988 biography “The Ragman's Son” became a bestseller, and he survived a stroke that still affects his speech, which he would write about in 2003’s “My Stroke of Luck”.
Outside of his career, Douglas is also renowned for his immense philanthropy alongside his wife Anne, with acts such as helping to rebuild Los Angeles’s playgrounds; donating millions to charity, feeding the homeless and more. He credits this generous nature back to his mother, who always taught him to help others when possible. In 1988, Douglas was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
During the week leading up to his 101st birthday, Douglas was greeted by fellow Hollywood royalty Judi Dench, who also shares their date of birth and turns 83. He met her for the first time on November 30 at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, where he received the Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film.
His son, Michael Douglas, carries on the family torch as an accomplished actor of his own right.