Hollywood actor Kirk Douglas turns 100

Son of Russian Empire immigrants grew up in poverty in New York before Navy and film careers

Hollywood actor Kirk Douglas is celebrating his 100th birthday on Friday.

The screen veteran’s career spanned seven decades that included three Oscar nominations, as well as an honorary Academy Award in 1996 for being “a creative and moral force in the motion picture community”.

Best known for his roles in Spartacus (1960) and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954), Douglas earned his Oscar nominations for Best Actor in Champion (1949), The Bad And The Beautiful (1952), and Lust For Life (1956), but lost out on the trophy each time.

He was born Issur Danielovitch in 1916 in Amsterdam, New York, to Jewish immigrant parents Herschel and Bryna, who had left Chavusy in the Mogilev region of the Russian Empire, which is modern-day Belarus.


The Danielovitch family also had six daughters and lived in poverty with Herschel working as a ragman.

After enlisting in the US Navy in 1941, Issur changed his name to Kirk Douglas and was a communications officer in anti-submarine warfare during the second World War until he was medically discharged because of injuries in 1944.

Douglas had attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City on a special scholarship, where two of his classmates were Diana Dill, who became his first wife in 1943, and Lauren Bacall, who helped to launch his film career.

He and Dill had two sons together - actor Michael Douglas and producer Joel Douglas - before they divorced in 1951.

Douglas later married Anne Buydens in 1954 and they also had two sons together, producer Peter Douglas and actor Eric Douglas, who died in 2004.

He is known for his relationships with a series of famous women, including Rita Hayworth, Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich.

Although he started his acting career in radio, theatre and television, his friendship with Bacall led to him landing his first film role when she recommended him to director Hal Wallis for 1946 film The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers.

He starred in a number of Westerns, including Along The Great Divide (1951) and Lonely Are The Brave (1962), as well as early Stanley Kubrick film Paths Of Glory in 1957.


Douglas has been credited with helping to put an end to the Hollywood Blacklist, where employment was denied to those working in the entertainment industry who had been accused of having communist ties, by publicly acknowledging former Communist Party member Dalton Trumbo as the screenwriter for Spartacus.

In 1957 he won a Best Actor Golden Globe for Lust For Life, and in 1968 won the Cecil B DeMille Award at the Golden Globes for his outstanding contribution to the world of entertainment.

He made a Broadway adaptation of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest in 1963, which he also starred in before passing on the film rights to son Michael, and directed two Westerns — 1975's Posse, in which he starred with Bruce Dern, and the 1973 film Scalawag, where he also took a lead role.

Despite suffering a severe stroke in 1996 which affected his speech, Douglas went through years of voice therapy to get back into acting and starred in Diamonds in 1999 alongside Bacall, playing an old fighter recovering from a stroke.

The most recent film he appeared in was 2004’s Illusion, about an ailing movie director, and in 2008 he featured in TV movie Empire State Building Murders.

As an author, he has published 10 novels and memoirs, and his blog is hosted on the Huffington Post.