Kirk Douglas, one of Hollywood’s most iconic and longest-lasting icons, has died, his son, Michael Douglas, has revealed to People magazine. The beloved star was 103 years old.
Douglas’ ascent into the upper echelons of the film industry was quick. After being medically discharged from World War II, he made his name on the New York stage and then, acting on the advice of friend Lauren Bacall, made his screen debut in the 1946 Barbara Stanwyck noir drama The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. His second film was no less than Out of the Past, one of the great noirs, which pitted him against rival tough guy Robert Mitchum. The two didn’t get along, but the budding star held his own.
With his square head and his famous chin dimple, Douglas oozed confidence and masculinity, often cast as angry but soulful men in the likes of Champion (1949), Young Man with a Horn (1950), and Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, Billy Wilder’s deeply pessimistic classic from 1951, in which his star played a cynical reporter who manipulates a tragic story in order to make it juicier for his readers.
Over his long career, which spanned seven decades, Douglas never won an Oscar, and was only nominated thrice. His first was for Champion and his second honored 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful, in which he played a thinly veiled version of noted Hollywood producer Val Lewton. His last, in 1956, fêted his turn in Lust for Life, in which he played a particularly anguished Vincent Van Gogh.
Douglas was smart to use his star power to become a major Hollywood mover, using his name to help budding filmmakers get work. He headlined Stanley Kubrick’s anti-war opus Paths of Glory in 1957, then brought him over to Spartacus three years later. On that film he also helped break the blacklist by not only hiring shunned screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to write the epic, but actually credited him on the film.
Other noted Douglas movies include the Hollywood exposé Two Weeks in Another Town, the Rod Serling-penned coup drama Seven Days in May (1964), Brian De Palma’s telekinetic teen thriller The Fury (1978) and — acknowledging his age for laughs — the 1986 comedy Tough Guys, which paired him with sometime co-star Burt Lancaster. He also stole a great episode of The Simpsons, voicing Chester L. Lampwick, the liver-loving hobo who almost took down Itchy and Scratchy.
Douglas suffered a stroke in 1996, but he kept on making appearances, on shows, at award ceremonies, and in films, unafraid to speak with a severe impairment, always up to show he was still bursting with life. In 2003, he acted alongside his son Michael in the comedy It Runs in the Family. His last film performance was the 2004 indie Illusion. It’s amazing we had him as long as we did, and sad we couldn’t have had him around even longer.