Kirk Douglas died today, February 5, 2020, at the age of 103. He was born December 9, 1916 in Amsterdam, New York.
Born to poor parents and given the name Issur Danielovitch, the story of Douglas’ ascent from poverty to Hollywood royalty is like a movie in itself. His parents, Bryna and Herschel Danielovitch, were Jewish immigrants from Chavusy, Mahilyow Voblast (now in Belarus). He grew up in a ghetto but was a scholar and an athlete, competing in wrestling while at St. Lawrence University. He received an acting scholarship and was accepted into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, says his bio on IMDB.
Here are some pictures of Kirk Douglas when he was young:
Kirk Douglas was an actor best known for his starring role in Spartacus, as well as dozens of other movies. People reported he suffered his stroke in 1996. He wrote about his recovery after the life-changing event in his best selling memoir, My Stroke of Luck. Although he recovered from the stroke, he struggled to recover his use of language afterward, says the National Aphasia Association.
In 2007, Douglas told the National Aphasia Association, “My stroke…was a blessing in disguise. I learned that we take too many things for granted in this world, even speech. We think our thoughts and then we have no difficulty saying it in words. When you have a stroke your mind thinks quickly but your speech reacts very slowly. You have to learn how to use your tongue, your lips, your teeth. I am lucky, although my speech is still impaired, I suffer no paralysis and I didn’t die. I have begun to appreciate the gift of life. Of course, I do my speech exercises every day. When I asked my speech therapist how long would I have to do my exercises? Her answer was, ‘until you die.'”
He told NIH in 2007, “The antidote to depression is humor and thinking of others. When I could barely speak, I made up a joke: ‘What does an actor do when he can’t talk? He waits for silent pictures to come back!’ Humor is a very important element in life. I deal with it extensively in my book Let’s Face It. But the most important thing to counteract depression is to think of other people. Try to be concerned with the problems of others, try to help them. This will help you deal with depression.”
His 2007 book Let’s Face It is full of his life stories, jokes and insights, says Turner Publishing. He explores the mixed blessings of growing older and looks back at his childhood, his young adulthood, and his life and career in Hollywood. He tells stories of the making of Spartacus, Lust for Life, Champion, The Bad and the Beautiful among others. He includes anecdotes about Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster, Lauren Bacall, Ronald Reagan, Ava Gardner, Henry Kissinger, Fred Astaire, Yul Brynner, John Wayne and Johnny Cash. He reveals the secrets that have kept him and his wife, Anne, happily married for more than five decades, and talks about time he spent with his sons, Michael, Peter, Eric and Joel, and his grandchildren.
His son Michael Douglas posted on Instagram, “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.”
He credited his wife with getting him out of his depression after his stroke, saying, “I am lucky to be married to a fantastic woman, Anne. She didn’t coddle me; she helped me. When I was lying in bed bemoaning my fate, Anne would say, ‘Get your ass out of bed and start with working with your speech therapist.’ That helped me.”
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