Date of Birth: December 9, 1916
Born Issur Danielovitch to Russian immigrants, Kirk Douglas, waited tables to put himself through St. Lawrence University, where he was a top-notch wrestler. While there he also did a little work in theater. Later he became a professional wrestler and held various odd jobs to put himself through the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
In 1941 he debuted on Broadway, but had only two small roles before he enlisted in the Navy and served in World War II. After his discharge, Douglas returned to Broadway in 1945, where he began getting meatier roles. After being spotted and invited to Hollywood by producer Hal Wallis, he debuted onscreen in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), but did not emerge as a full-fledged star until his role as an unscrupulously ambitious boxer in Champion (1949); with this role he defined one of his main character-types as an actor, that of a cocky, selfish, intense, powerful man.
In 1955 he formed his own company, Bryna Productions, through which he produced both his own films and those of others, including two by Stanley Kubrick, Paths of Glory (1957) and Spartacus (1960); later he also formed Joel Productions. In 1963 he appeared on Broadway in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but was never able to interest Hollywood in a film version of the work; he passed it along to his son Michael Douglas, who eventually brought it to the screen to great success. During the 1960s, he continued to play leading men and began directing some of his films in the early '70s.
He has received the American Cinema Award (1987), the German Golden Kamera Award (1988), the National Board of Review's Career Achievement Award (1989) and in 1996 an Honorary Academy Award for his 50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community.
He has also published two novels: Dance with the Devil (1990) and The Secret (1992). He published his autobiography, The Ragman's Son, in 1988.
Although Douglas suffered a severe stroke in 1995, therapy has somewhat improved his condition over the years, enabling him to appear with his son Michael and grandson Cameron in the motion picture It Runs In the Family (2003).