Kirk Douglas: A life in film | Times News

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The Hollywood actor Kirk Douglas, best known for his portrayal of the slave leader Spartacus, has died. He was 103.

The giant of stage and screen was the last of the male stars of Hollywood’s golden age. His son Michael Douglas said: “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.

Kirk Douglas: A life in film transcript

“Cuz you don’t know the answer to that question, I pity you.”

With dimple barrel chested swagger and robust in-your-face acting style, Kirk Douglas was a movie actor built to impress, but as a Hollywood icon, he was built to last. He starred in some of the definitive movies from the classic era of American filmmaking. Movies such as Spartacus (1960), The Bad and The Beautiful (1952) and Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957) and he was three times nominated for an Oscar.

Take that back to your Senate. Tell’em you and that broken stick is all that’s left of the garrison of Rome. Tell them we want nothing from Rome, nothing, except our freedom.

And yet, it was his influence behind the camera as the ultimate modern producer-actor, that paved the way for producer stars today such just Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Reese Witherspoon and even Douglas’ own son Michael.

Born into poverty-stricken Russian immigrant family in New York, Douglas’s drive towards the riches and material comforts of Hollywood stardom was self evident. By his own admission, he hustled his way through drama courses and early-stage rolls, often penniless, until Hollywood finally cast him an ambitious fame-hungry boxer in the 1949 hit Champion

His career path bounced predictably, and with seeming ease from westerns such as The Big Sky (1952) to the Disney blockbuster 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954).

Song from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

And yet, what makes Douglas remarkable was not his screen personae, often a variation of the same passionate angry yet ultimately principled hero, no, the standout in Douglas was his willingness to claim power within the industry. He founded his own production company at a time when it was still relatively unusual to do so. He produced some of his own best movies including Paths of Glory (1957) The Vikings (1958) and Spartacus (1960).

In later years he became an author, philanthropist, and Goodwill Ambassador to United Nations, acting only fitfully in films such as Tough Guys (1986) and Oscar (1991) and, after a debilitating stroke in 1996, Diamonds (1999) and It Runs in the Family (2003). Ultimately and appropriately he’ll be remembered for the classic scene in Spartacus when, standing among a defeated Army of slave rebels all boldly chanting his name, he realizes that he is loved and worshiped by his men and that, most importantly, he is a lowly born slave risen to the greatest of heights.

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