Kirk Douglas joins his family for a photo in 2016. AP file ophoto

Kirk Douglas, longtime influential movie star, dies at 103

LOS ANGELES — Kirk Douglas, the intense, muscular actor with the dimpled chin who starred in Spartacus, Lust for Life and dozens of other films, helped fatally weaken the blacklist against suspected Communists and reigned for decades as a Hollywood maverick and patriarch, died Wednesday, his family said. He was 103.

“It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103,” his son Michael said in a statement on his Instagram account. “To the world, he was a legend, an actor from the golden age of movies who lived well into his golden years, a humanitarian whose commitment to justice and the causes he believed in set a standard for all of us to aspire to.”

Kirk Douglas’ death was first reported by People magazine.

His granite-like strength and underlying vulnerability made the son of illiterate Russian immigrants one of the top stars of the 20th century. He appeared in more than 80 films, in roles ranging from Doc Holliday in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral to Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life.

He worked with some of Hollywood’s greatest directors, from Vincente Minnelli and Billy Wilder to Stanley Kubrick and Elia Kazan. His career began at the peak of the studios’ power, more than 70 years ago, and ended in a more diverse, decentralized era that he helped bring about.

Always competitive, including with his own family, Douglas never received an Academy Award for an individual film, despite being nominated three times — for Champion, The Bad and the Beautiful and Lust for Life.

But in 1996, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded him an honorary Oscar. His other awards included a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute.

He was a category unto himself, a force for change and symbol of endurance.

In his latter years, he was a final link to a so-called Golden Age, a man nearly as old as the industry itself.

In his youth, he represented a new kind of performer, more independent and adventurous than Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and other giants of the studio era of the 1930s and 1940s, and more willing to speak his mind.

Reaching stardom after World War II, he was as likely to play cads (the movie producer in Bad and the Beautiful, the journalist in Ace in the Hole) as he was suited to play heroes, as alert to the business as he was at home before the camera. He started his own production company in 1955, when many actors still depended on the studios, and directed some of his later films.

A born fighter, Douglas was especially proud of his role in the the downfall of Hollywood’s blacklist, which halted and ruined the careers of writers suspected of pro-Communist activity or sympathies. By the end of the ’50s, the use of banned writers was widely known within the industry, but not to the general public.

Douglas, who years earlier had reluctantly signed a loyalty oath to get the starring role in Lust for Life, provided a crucial blow when he openly credited the former Communist and Oscar winner Dalton Trumbo for script work on Spartacus, the epic about a slave rebellion during ancient Rome that was released in 1960. (A few months earlier, Otto Preminger had announced Trumbo’s name would appear on the credits for Exodus, but Spartacus came out first.)

“Everybody advised me not to do it because you won’t be able to work in this town again and all of that. But I was young enough to say to hell with it,” Douglas said about Spartacus in a 2011 interview with The Associated Press. “I think if I was much older, I would have been too conservative: ‘Why should I stick my neck out?’”

Douglas rarely played lightly. He was compulsive about preparing for roles and a supreme sufferer on camera, whether stabbed with scissors in Ace in the Hole or crucified in Spartacus.

Critic David Thomson dubbed Douglas “the manic-depressive among Hollywood stars, one minute bearing down on plot, dialogue and actresses with the gleeful appetite of a man just freed from Siberia, at other times writing not just in agony but mutilation and a convincingly horrible death.”

filmFilm industryMovies

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Duncan’s Big Stick lights up red to signal COVID’s devastation of the arts

“COVID-19 has been truly devastating to the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre”

Pandemic reunites 2000s era Victoria rock band The Origin

Saanich musicians recording for first time since 2008

From Nanoose Bay to the bookshelf, Howard the Gnome now a children’s book

Vancouver Island author explores Howard’s move down-Island

Nanaimo country singer releases new music video

‘Adrenaline’ is the second single from Joel Lee’s upcoming debut EP

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Art+Earth Festival gets growing this weekend

Find out what events are in-person and what’s happening online

Film about missing and murdered indigenous women makes Nanaimo debut

A mother and daughter search for answers in Sonia Bonspille Boileau’s ‘Rustic Oracle’

Nanaimo’s Harbour City Photography Club goes virtual to adapt to COVID-19

Club’s exhibitions, meetings and presentations are now occurring online

Nanaimo’s Western Edge Theatre returns to the stage in Port Theatre debut

Theatre group presents ‘2 Across,’ described as a ‘middle-aged romantic comedy’

Authors nominated for Victoria Book Prize awards

Finalists for 2020 announced in two categories

Three Nanaimo-area writers up for CBC non-fiction prize

Sheila Brooke, Vicki McLeod and Rachael Preston make 35-person longlist

Resident Alien returns to Ladysmith for filming in early October

New SyFy series back after spring filming interrupted by COVID-19

Most Read