Instep Today

Remembering Kirk Douglas

By Omair Alavi
Mon, 02, 20

His death last week, on February 5, has left Hollywood devoid of one of its golden age icons.

Kirk Douglas with son Michael Douglas.

Kirk Douglas was not just a veteran actor. The father of actor Michael Douglas, he truly was one of the last icons of the golden age of Hollywood. His death at the age of 103 on February 5th is a huge blow to those who have seen his movies, loved his acting and copied his characters in repeated fashion.

Before there was Gladiator, there was Kirk Douglas’ The Spartacus while The Viking pitted him against the best in the industry. He was one of the few actors to have worked with John Wayne, Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis in more than one film.

Born as Issur Danielovitch, the actor and producer, leaves behind a legacy of powerful performances, magnetic presence on the screen and outstanding movies some of which are discussed below…

Lust For Life (1956)

Director: Vincente Minnelli

Kirk Douglas’ uncanny resemblance to master painter Vincent Van Gogh as well as his ability (in his own words) to play ‘this talented genius who took his own life, thinking he was a failure’ helped him earn his third and final Oscar nomination. In this Vincente Minnelli-directed biopic, he played the Dutch painter in the best way possible, highlighting his failed romances, his poverty and his distrust of others. Anthony Quinn may have won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this film but it solidified Kirk Douglas’ career as one of Hollywood’s leading man who could act well even in non-action films.

Paths of Glory (1957)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

The paths of Hollywood star Kirk Douglas and a 28-year-old director Stanley Kubrick crossed for the first time in Paths of Glory. Kirk Douglas played a World War I colonel, in this anti-war film, who refuses to send his soldiers into a bloodbath, and later defends them when they are court-martialed. It was through this film that Stanley Kubrick became a force to reckon with in Hollywood. For Kirk Douglas, it was just another day in the office. However, the scene where he calls his superior officer a “degenerate, sadistic old man” achieved iconic status and is considered one of the best scenes in Hollywood history.

The Vikings (1958)

Director: Richard Fleischer

Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis played step-brothers in this period drama where they were pitted against each other for the love of a girl. Kirk Douglas leads the way, playing the elder brother who wants to avenge his father’s death and seeks his brother’s help in launching a surprise attack. Every actor including Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, and Ernest Borgnine did a remarkable job but Kirk Douglas was the one who came out as the ultimate victor despite dying in the end. His death scene is often hailed as a benchmark for others to follow.

Spartacus (1960)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Spartacus was not just Kirk Douglas’ signature role; it was also his own production, his second feature film with Stanley Kubrick where he fired the original director (Anthony Mann) for being awed by the ensemble cast. He played a Roman slave who leads an uprising and nearly succeeds. But, he wasn’t much different off-screen, back then. Not only did he hire the then-blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo as a scriptwriter, he didn’t let Stanley Kubrick have creative control, perhaps for the only time in the latter’s career. The result was a classic that has been made into a TV series, and is considered superior to many flicks depicting Roman culture 60 years after its release.

It Runs In The Family (2003)

Director: Fred Schepisi

In what turned out to be his final acting role, Kirk Douglas played father to his real-life son Michael Douglas and grandfather to his grandson Cameron onscreen. The three generations of the Douglas clan came together for a comedy-drama. Each of them has their own issues but one incident brings them closer, resolving their issues in the process. Kirk Douglas’ ex-wife and Michael’s mother, Diana Douglas, also played an important character in the film, making it a family saga for the newer generation that hasn’t experienced Kirk Douglas in cinema much or at all.

– Omair Alavi is a freelance broadcast journalist who can be contacted at