Kirk Douglas: Michael Douglas speaks about his father in 2016
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Kirk Douglas stars in the World War 2 thriller ‘Heroes of Telemark’, being shown on ITV today. The war thriller is set in Occupied Norway, 1942, where a team of resistance fighters undertakes the vital and dangerous mission to destroy a heavy water plant to prevent the Nazis producing an atomic bomb. Kirk was one of the biggest Hollywood stars in the Fifties, making his film debut in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers with Barbara Stanwyck before starring in serious dramas, westerns and war films. He was also well-known as one of the most abrasive and unfiltered figures in the film industry.
This was due in part to his tough upbringing – he grew up in New York in a poor family, and his father’s alcoholism caused tensions in the family.
In his autobiography, The Ragman’s Son, he described himself as a “son of a b****”, admitting: “I’m probably the most disliked actor in Hollywood. And I feel pretty good about it. Because that’s me… I was born aggressive, and I guess I’ll die aggressive.
“There was an awful lot of rage churning around inside me, rage that I was afraid to reveal because there was so much more of it, and so much stronger, in my father.”
One person who would later feel the consequences of Kirk’s difficult life was his own son – Michael Douglas – famous for starring in films such as Fatal Attraction and Wall Street.
As reported by The Mirror in 2020, Michael believed his dad’s steely ambition coloured his youth with paternal absence and he believes Kirk only saw him and his brother Joel, from his first marriage to Diana Dill, “out of guilt”.
In an interview with Associated Press, in which he refused to call Kirk ‘dad’, Michael said: “In those key years, when Kirk was doing five movies a year… Kirk was all-consumed, was overworked. Probably like myself at a certain time in my life.”
A big rift between the father and son came when Michael convinced Kirk to sell him the rights to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but didn’t cast his father in the lead role.
According to reports, Kirk was livid when his son decided to put Jack Nicholson in the role instead.
To make things worse for Kirk, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest went on to clean up at the Oscars.
And Michael’s 2000 marriage to Catherine Zeta-Jones reportedly also caused a divide in the
Douglas family, with Kirk apparently refusing to be in the same room as his ex, Diana, the mother of Michael.
Addiction was another factor which led to challenges for the family.
Michael went to rehab in 1991 and got sober, but his younger brother Eric slipped into an eight-day coma after accidentally overdosing on Xanax.
He never fully recovered his ability to talk and walk and died from an accidental overdose aged 46 in 2004.
Michael’s son Cameron also suffered from drug addiction, something the Hollywood star blamed himself for.
He told ABC in 2019: “My career was first. My career came before my family.
“I should’ve focused more on my family but that’s hard to say when you’re in the midst of a career when in your own mind you’re stepping out of your father’s shadow, trying to create a life of your own.”
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Kirk and Michael’s relationship eventually improved after Kirk had a stroke in 1996, and came to depend on his son.
In 2020, when Kirk died aged 103, Michael made a touching tribute to his father.
He said: “It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103.
“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 (Zeta-Jones), a wonderful father-in-law, to his grandchildren and great-grandchild, their loving grandfather, and to his wife Anne, a wonderful husband.
“Dad ‒ I love you so much and I am so proud to be your son.”
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