Tributes paid to Hollywood great Kirk Douglas who dies aged 103
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Tributes paid to Hollywood great Kirk Douglas who dies aged 103

One of the last remaining stars of golden generation of acting, best known for films including Spartacus, Ace In The Hole and Champion, passes away at his Beverly Hills home

Kirk Douglas. Photo credit: PA/PA Wire
Kirk Douglas. Photo credit: PA/PA Wire

Tributes have been paid to Hollywood great Kirk Douglas, who has died at the age of 103.

The venerated star, patriarch of an acting dynasty and one of the few remaining survivors of Hollywood’s golden age, was best known for films including Spartacus, Ace In The Hole and Champion.

He died at his home in Beverly Hills on Wednesday. His eldest son, Michael Douglas, a two-time Oscar-winner, announced his father’s death with a touching tribute.

“It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103,” the 75-year-old said in a statement.

“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.

“But to me and my brothers Joel and Peter he was simply Dad, to Catherine, a wonderful father-in-law, to his grandchildren and great grandchild their loving grandfather, and to his wife Anne, a wonderful husband.”

Michael said his father’s life was “well lived” and he leaves a cinematic legacy that “will endure for generations to come” as well as being “a renowned philanthropist who worked to aid the public and bring peace to the planet”.

He finished the poignant message by saying: “Let me end with the words I told him on his last birthday and which will always remain true. Dad – I love you so much and I am so proud to be your son.”

Actor Kirk Douglas with his wife Anne. Photo credit: Tim Ockenden/PA Wire

Michael’s wife, the Welsh actress Catherine Zeta Jones, paid her own moving tribute. Alongside a picture showing her kissing her father-in-law on the cheek, she wrote: “To my darling Kirk, I shall love you for the rest of my life. I miss you already. Sleep tight…”

A host of other Hollywood stars rushed to add their own tributes. Revered director Steven Spielberg said Douglas left behind a “breathtaking body of work”.

“Kirk retained his movie star charisma right to the end of his wonderful life and I’m honoured to have been a small part of his last 45 years,” Spielberg said in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter.

Rocky actor Sylvester Stallone described Douglas as one of his heroes while Mark Hamill, best known for playing Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films, said Douglas was one of the biggest stars of all time and “a brilliant actor with an unforgettable, blazing charisma”.

Kirk Douglas with his great-grandson

Douglas defied a poverty-stricken childhood to forge one of the the great Hollywood careers, with his trademark cleft chin and steely blue eyes making him a much-loved leading man.

The only son in a family of six girls, Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch in 1916 in the town of Amsterdam, New York, to Herschel and Bryna Danielovitch, poor Jewish immigrants from what is today Belarus.

In his first memoir, The Ragman’s Son, Douglas told how he legally changed his name before joining the US Navy during the Second World War.

He made his film debut in 1946 noir The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers, opposite Barbara Stanwyck and soon established himself as a star, with his explosive acting style and masculine persona making him a perfect fit for Hollywood.

Kirk Douglas who has died at the age of 103. Photo credit: Yui Mok/PA Wire

The first of Douglas’s three best actor Oscar nominations came for 1949 boxing drama Champion, with a second following for his role in 1952’s The Bad And The Beautiful, in which he starred opposite Lana Turner.

His third arrived for the 1956 biopic Lust For Life, in which he portrayed Vincent Van Gogh. While he never won a competitive Oscar, the Academy awarded him an honorary prize in 1996.

Douglas is best known for 1960 historical epic Spartacus.

He partnered with the then relatively unknown director Stanley Kubrick to play the leader of a slave revolt in ancient Rome.

Spartacus features one of the most quoted scenes in cinema. The film’s climax sees the recaptured slaves ordered to identify their leader in exchange for their lives.

Instead, one by one they respond by each claiming to be Spartacus, sealing their own fate.

It is a scene that has been endlessly imitated and parodied, most notably by Monty Python’s Life of Brian in 1979.

Spartacus also marked Douglas’s rebellion against the Hollywood blacklist during the early Cold War era.

Kirk Douglas in a scene from the film A Gunfight, in which he takes part in a duel in a Mexican village. Photo credit: PA Wire

When the film was released, he gave full credit to the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, fatally weakening the ban and becoming a hero to those ostracised by it.

Reflecting on it years later, Douglas said: “I’ve made over 85 pictures, but the thing I’m most proud of is breaking the blacklist.”

Douglas’s life was not without difficulty. He narrowly survived a helicopter crash in 1991 and suffered a stroke in 1996, following which he lived with a renewed focused on spirituality and religion.

His son Eric died at the age of 46 in 2004 of an accidental drug overdose.

Douglas is survived by his second wife, Anne Buydens, who he married in 1954.

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