“My children didn’t have the advantages I had growing up,” Kirk Douglas said once, “they were born rich.” What he meant was that his poverty-stricken youth made him more aware of the value of a dollar. How many pampered sons and daughters of the rich and famous would learn to appreciate the wisdom of his words after they frittered away their easily-won wealth? Or fell into the drink and/or drugs trap as a result?
Douglas, incredibly, will be 100 on December 9. His son Michael, who’s just as famous as his father – if not moreso – is planning a major bash to honour the milestone. He insists Kirk is as healthy as a trout. And I believe him.
The iconic actor – one of the last living legends from Hollywood’s golden era – seems to have disobeyed the laws of nature. He didn’t even let a helicopter crash in 1991 deter him, despite sustaining severe back injuries as a result. He was 74 at the time – a mere stripling.
“Why was I spared and others killed?” he asked, using the experience to re-examine his Jewish identity and his relationship with God. He chronicled these in his book Climbing the Mountain: My Search for Meaning.
He suffered a stroke in 1996 but didn’t let this knock him back either. He wrote another book about that, cleverly titled A Stroke of Luck. It outlined the positive aspects of the affliction in the same way as his positive thinking outlined the positive aspects of his helicopter crash.
Douglas is one of those rare actors who’s almost impossible to pigeonhole. His career is truly diverse, ranging from military roles to westerns to strong noir dramas. Amazingly enough he never won an Oscar, an astonishing oversight on the part of Hollywood’s Academy. They gave him a Life Achievement Award in 1991 but it was really too little too late.
He should have got one for Lust for Life, a biopic of Vincent Van Gogh. He was stunning as the tortured artist but after making the film his friend John Wayne said to him, “You shouldn’t be playing weaklings like that”.Wayne couldn’t understand there are more ways of being virile than swinging a six-gun in Monument Valley.
Most of Douglas’ films are available to buy on Amazon. He rarely made a bad one but I would particularly recommend Spartacus, Paths of Glory, Ace in the Hole, Champion, The Bad and the Beautiful, Lonely Are the Brave and Build My Gallows High.
What’s the secret of his longevity? A healthy lifestyle, I would say – he swears by exercise – and the work ethic. He also has an inner calm about him. And he’s had one of Hollywood’s happiest marriages, being with his beloved wife Anne Buydens since 1954.
He’s donated millions to charitable causes and has been a renowned spokesman on human rights for decades.
Happy birthday, Kirk. If I know anything, you’ll already be in training to blow out those 100 candles.