Kirk Douglas dies

Spartacus star was 103

by Jennie Kermode

Kirk Douglas as Spartacus
Kirk Douglas as Spartacus

Few actors have ever achieved the legendary status of Kirk Douglas, star of Spartacus and three-time Oscar nominee, who has passed away at the age of 103.

A former wrestler and an army veteran, Douglas got his first break in acting through his friendship with Lauren Bacall, and starred opposite Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, but it was his role as a boxer in Champion in 1949 that won him serious attention. He was quick to cement his new status, going on to star in films that included The Glass Menagerie, Ace in The Hole, The Bad And The Beautiful, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Lust For Life, Town Without Pity and The Vikings. He retired from acting 12 years ago but remained active in other areas of life.

Alongside acting, he was a passionate campaigner who came to be much admired for his stance against McCarthyism and the Hollywood blacklist of the 1950s, for which he received a Bill of Rights Award from the ACLU. He spoke out against fascism throughout his life, often when it was unpopular to do so and despite the fact that he was shy by nature. He also supported the arts and charities working to combat Alzheimer's disease.

Surviving a stroke and a helicopter accident, Douglas was a real life hero to many, but his life was not without controversy, especially during a period when he struggled with alcoholism. During his better days he worked on the stage as well as the screen, tried his hand at directing and wrote several books and newspaper articles.

As tributes poured in for the star, Rob Reiner called him "an icon in the pantheon of Hollywood," Mark Hamill referred to his "unforgettable, blazing charisma," and Bruce Campbell lamented "Nobody danced on Viking oars like you!"

"Douglas was a champion for many just causes and lived a long and storied life. He was adored and beloved, and he shall be missed," said George Takei.

"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," said his son, actor Michael Douglas, in a statement released today. "Kirk's life was well lived, and he leaves a legacy in film that will endure for generations to come, and a history as a renowned philanthropist who worked to aid the public and bring peace to the planet... 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."

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