Kirk Douglas obituary: Spartacus legend dies aged 103

Kirk Douglas, one of the last surviving stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, has died at the grand old age of 103.

The veteran star’s death was confirmed last night by his son, the Oscar-winning actor Michael Douglas. In a statement, Michael said:

“It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today.

“To the world, he was a legend, an actor from the golden age of movies… but to me and my brothers Joel and Peter he was simply Dad.

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.”

Born in New York in 1916, Douglas endured an impoverished childhood with immigrant parents and six sisters before making his film debut in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) alongside Barbara Stanwyck.

He suddenly became an international star through positive reception for his leading role as Midge, an unscrupulous boxing hero in Champion (1949). The role earned him the first of three Oscar nominations for his acting.

The 1950s would provide more success for him particularly in 1951 when he produced gritty performances as scheming journalist Chuck Tatum in Ace in the Hole and as troubled detective James McLeod in the crime drama Detective Story. The latter role would earn him his first Golden Globe nod.

1952 saw Douglas receive his second Oscar nomination for his performance as the tough yet ambitious Hollywood producer Jonathan Shields in the melodrama The Bad and the Beautiful (1952).

After appearing in the likes of Ulssyes (1954) and the hit Disney blockbuster 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (as the heroic Ned Land), he then won acclaim for his portrayal of the legendary artist Vincent van Gogh in the biopic Lust for Life (1956).

The performance won him a Golden Globe (for Best Actor in a Drama) as well as earning him his third and final Oscar nomination.

Douglas continued to be on a hot streak heading into the end of the 50s starting with his role as outlaw Doc Holliday in the western Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957). That same year also saw him play conflicted commanding officer Col. Dax in Stanley Kubrick’s war drama Paths of Glory (1957).

Another significant character part would come as the Viking prince Einar in the action-adventure Vikings (1958) which was a great precursor for his most memorable screen appearance.

In 1960, he collaborated again with Stanley Kubrick to tackle the leading role of the rebellious slave Spartacus in the historical epic Spartacus (1960). The film garnered tremendous success and went on to win four Oscars.

Now into his mid-40s, Douglas started to take on more versatile roles in the 1960s which included his BAFTA-nominated performance as the fiercely-independent cowboy John W. “Jack” Burns in the western Lonely Are the Brave (1962).

In 1963, he starred as leading protagonist Randle Patrick McMurphy in the Broadway play One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Douglas retained the rights to make a film version which he gave it to his son Michael who then turned it into a hit Oscar-winning film (1975) starring Jack Nicholson.

After producing solid performances as Col. Martin ‘Jiggs’ Casey in Seven Days in May (1963) and as Gen. George S. Patton Jr. in Is Paris Burning? (1966), Douglas then received the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 1968 Golden Globes.

The 1970s led to a decline for the ageing star with most of his films being underwhelming efforts. The following decade did deliver some sort of comeback with his Golden Globe and Emmy-nominated role as long-suffering pensioner Amos Lasher in the TV drama Amos (1985).

He would receive two more Emmy nods for his guest appearances in Tales from the Crypt (1989) and Touched by an Angel (2000). Sandwiched between those two screen credits was his narrow escape from a helicopter crash in 1991.

1996 proved to be a mixed year for Douglas as he suffered a debilitating stroke in January that year which left him with seriously impaired speech. However, he did receive an honorary Oscar for his creative work over the past five decades.

That same year also saw him provide the voice of Chester J. Lampwick, the real creator of Itchy and Scratchy in the Simpsons episode The Day the Violence Died (1996).

Douglas worked on just three more productions in the 2000s which included appearing alongside his son Michael in the romantic dramedy It Runs in the Family (2003). His final screen role would come in the film noir-based TV drama Empire State Building Murders (2008).

Douglas is survived by his long-time wife Anne and his children Michael, Joel and Peter.

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