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American actor and filmmaker Kirk Douglas was born on December 9th, 1916, in Amsterdam, New York, under the name Issur Danielovitch. His parents were immigrants from the Russian Empire (modern-day Belarus) and settled in the U.S. under the surname “Demsky.” Before officially changing his name to “Kirk Douglas” when he joined the Navy in 1941, Douglas was called Izzy Demsky. Growing up in an unstable and impoverished household, Douglas had wished to leave home and become an actor ever since he was little. He started acting in plays in his high school years and later attended St. Lawrence University (New York), from which he graduated in 1939 with a bachelor’s degree. Douglas also attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, in NYC, under a scholarship.

During World War II, Douglas served in the Navy as a communications officer in anti-submarine warfare. He was discharged in 1944 due to being injured in an explosion. Douglas went back to New York to work in either radio, commercials and theater. His stage breakout role was in the play Kiss and Tell in 1943. On the big screen, Douglas made his debut in 1946 in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, for which he got positive reviews from the critics. After achieving a steady stream of film work, which helped to build up his “tough guy” performances, Douglas starred in his breakthrough role as the lead in sports drama Champion (1949). The movie was a success and earned the actor his first Academy Award nomination. Douglas also founded his own production company, Bryna Productions, later that year. During the course of his career, the actor would go on to receive more Academy Award nominations, as well as Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA and Emmys for his performances, but failing to achieve the coveted statues.

Following the success of Champion, Douglas became a big blockbuster movie star. Many of the movies in which he starred were also produced by him. His acting credits during this time include: Young Man with a Horn (1950), Along the Great Divide (1951), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Lust for Life (1956), Paths of Glory (1957), Spartacus (1960), Town Without Pity (1961), Lonely Are the Brave (1962), The Hook (1963), Seven Days in May (1964), Heroes of Telemark (1965), Is Paris Burning? (1966), A Lovely Way to Die (1968), and The Arrangement (1969). Douglas’ career didn’t slow down as the 1970s rolled around, and the veteran actor continued to star in big productions, some done through Bryna Productions, together with his sons, Michael (also an actor) and Peter. The prolific actor also made his directorial debut in 1973’s Scalawag, followed by Posse (1975), in which he starred as well.

After the 1980s, Douglas’ film appearances became less frequent as they once had been. Notable movies from this decade onwards are The Final Countdown (1980), Tough Guys (1986), Inherit the Wind (1988), The Secret (1992), Greedy (1994), It Runs in the Family (2003), Illusion (2004), and Empire State Building Murders (2008), Douglas’ last film as he announced he would retire that same year. From the time of his retirement until his death, he rarely made any public appearances. Regarded as one of Hollywood’s most prominent stars of its Golden Age, Kirk Douglas died in his home in Beverly Hills, California, at the age of 103 on February 5th, 2020.

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