The Passing of Kirk Douglas

Kirk Douglas came way before Michael Douglas. Yet, if you ask a 5th grader who is Kirk Douglas, he would probably say, “Kirk, who?”

To the many youngsters who have never heard of Kirk Douglas, he was one of the great Hollywood actors of the silver screen. Kirk Douglas was born on December 9, 1916 in Amsterdam, New York. His parents were Jews who immigrated to the United States from Belarus, Russia. Kirk Douglas grew up, along with his six sisters, speaking Yiddish in the home.

In his 1988 autobiography, The Ragman’s Son, Kirk Douglas shows how proud he is of his achievement from growing up poor to becoming a Hollywood giant. His words are genuine and heartfelt:

My father, who had been a horse trader in Russia, got himself a horse and a small wagon, and became a ragman, buying old rags, pieces of metal, and junk for pennies, nickels, and dimes…. Even on Eagle Street, in the poorest section of town, where all the families were struggling, the ragman was on the lowest rung on the ladder. And I was the ragman’s son.

Such poignant words leave us sad not only for his struggles but also for his passing. In the words of his son, Michael Douglas, “he lived a life well-lived.” He most certainly did and his achievements are many.

His breakout role was in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, also starring Barbara Stanwyck, who was a classmate. His superb portrayal of a boxing hero in the 1949 film Champion landed him his first nomination for the Academy Award Best Actor category. He received an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from St. Lawrence University in 1958. He won the Oscar for Lifetime Achievement and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

His passing at 103 on February 5, 2020 left him with a ranking of 17 on the American Film Institute’s list of Golden Age legends. His legacy remains with his surviving spouse, Anne Buydens and sons Michael, Joel, and Peter Douglas. May his star continue to shine as he passes through the universe.