In February 2020 Kirk Douglas died at the tremendous age of 103 – and it’s fair to say that he’d led a remarkable life. Kirk’s many accomplishments were certainly mentioned, too, in the slew of tributes that were paid to the star following his passing. But perhaps the most revealing eulogy of all came from the Hollywood legend’s equally well-known son Michael. And what the Wall Street actor confessed in the wake of his father’s death may just bring a tear to your eye.
Kirk’s family didn’t reveal the exact cause of his death, but it was well known that he’d had health issues for a long time. A major stroke back in 1996 had left him struggling to speak, and he had only partially regained the ability to express himself after months of therapy.
However, one detail that the family did release is that Kirk had passed away surrounded by family. The actor had welcomed four sons overall, with one of them, Eric, sadly predeceasing him. Kirk’s kids had also given him seven grandchildren: Cameron, Dylan, Carys, Kelsey, Tyler, Ryan and Jason.
And when news of Kirk’s death hit the internet, many naturally took to social media to pay sorrowful tributes. There was plenty to honor, too. Famously, the Hollywood icon had been one of the last remaining stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and some of the movies in which he had appeared, such as Lust for Life, Paths of Glory and Spartacus, had since become classics.
Among those paying homage to Kirk was his daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta-Jones. The two, after all, had always enjoyed a close relationship. On her Instagram account, the Oscar-winning actress and wife of Michael posted the simple words, “To my darling Kirk, I shall love you for the rest of my life. I miss you already. Sleep tight.”
Kirk’s friend Steven Spielberg also released his own statement to The Hollywood Reporter. The legendary director said, “Kirk retained his movie star charisma right to the end of his wonderful life, and I’m honored to have been a small part of his last 45 years. I will miss his handwritten notes, letters and fatherly advice, and his wisdom and courage – even beyond such a breathtaking body of work – are enough to inspire me for the rest of mine.”
Elsewhere, Star Wars actor Mark Hamill said on Twitter, “Kirk Douglas was one of the biggest stars of all time and a brilliant actor with an unforgettable, blazing charisma. He will also be remembered for putting his career on the line by defying the Hollywood blacklist [and] hiring writer Dalton Trumbo for the classic Spartacus.”
And journalist Dan Rather wrote, “Hollywood doesn’t make legends like Kirk Douglas anymore. Born into a Jewish immigrant family, his star rose in the golden age of film, when marquee lights were bright and movie houses palaces. My thoughts are with his family. May his memory be a blessing to them and all of us.”
Understandably, many people also offered condolences to Kirk’s nearest and dearest – especially Anne Buydens, his wife of over half a century. She was the actor’s second spouse and is herself a centenarian, having turned 100 years old in 2019.
Then there were those who demonstrated compassion towards Michael – the most visible member of Kirk’s large family. Director Rob Reiner wrote on Twitter, “Kirk Douglas will always be an icon in the pantheon of Hollywood. He put himself on the line to break the blacklist. My love goes out to my friend Michael and the whole family.”
And over the years, Michael has often spoken about his relationship with his legendary father – although apparently things were frequently complicated. In 2010 he told AARP The Magazine, “I was the product of a divorced family. My dad was always torn; he was working really hard and would want to see us.”
Michael went on, “But then, with all his Kirk Douglas passion, he’d try to be a father for a week, a summer, whatever. It was tough.” He added, “I think it’s easier for me to be a good father. I’m not so concerned about my career.” At the time, the children he had with Catherine Zeta-Jones were still young.
Michael has also claimed that his father had placed his career over being a parent when his son was growing up. In 2016, for example, the actor told The Guardian that though he’d had “great times” visiting Kirk in Hollywood, his dad “was [a] film star first [and a] father second.” Michael admitted, too, that he and his brother Joel had been “much more emotionally attached to [their] stepfather” – a man named Bill Darrid.
Speaking further about his stepdad, Michael went on, “Bill was an extraordinary guy [and] the most important male influence through my teenage years. To his credit, Kirk always referred to him as my surrogate father. Step-parents often get a bad press. But it isn’t always true.”
Another step-parent in the mix, meanwhile, was Anne. Of Kirk’s second wife, Michael told The Guardian, “She’s a wonderful woman – the opposite of a wicked stepmother – who has been an integral part of my life all that time.” But he also remembered his own mother, Diana Dill, who had passed away in 2015.
Of his parents’ divorce, Michael mused, “Whichever way you cut it, Kirk was a man who cast… an extremely long shadow. He was… incredibly dynamic, larger than life, sometimes aggressive, a very masculine man who loved women – as my mother quickly discovered. Within 18 months of him being in California, she had seen and read enough to call time on the marriage.”
And in August 2018 Michael told Closer magazine that his dad’s fame had made him reconsider his own career path for a while. He said, “I thought I could never be the actor dad was, so I avoided it for a while. Not a lot of actors’ kids make it. Hollywood is awash with failures. For a long time, I can’t say I really enjoyed acting. I was always censoring it, editing it or analyzing it rather than just going with it.”
But no matter what, the two men appeared to love each other. In November 2018, then, Kirk made a relatively rare public appearance in support of Michael when his eldest child was granted a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And during the occasion, Jane Fonda – Michael’s co-star in the film The China Syndrome – made a speech about how the Basic Instinct actor had managed to emerge from his father’s shadow.
Fonda, who herself is from a famous acting clan, said, “Michael Douglas and I share something far more specific and unique than acting together… We both come from families referred to by the press as Hollywood royalty. Both of our fathers were movie legends, and thankfully Kirk Douglas is still with us.”
Fonda went on, “Stepping into a family business – any family business – is always challenging. Look at the Trumps or the Corleones. Carving out your own identity in a world-famous family business is especially difficult when parent and child are the same gender. I believe it was easier for me to follow in my father’s footsteps than it was for Michael to follow in his father’s footsteps.”
“Michael has not only carved out his identity as a great, great actor with tremendous range but as a great producer as well,” Fonda concluded. “He has rightfully been bestowed with all of the awards Hollywood has to offer… and now, finally, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.”
Michael also had plenty to say at the Walk of Fame ceremony. He thanked his brothers for coming, for instance, as well as giving a special shout-out to his son Cameron – his child with first wife Diandra Luker. Cameron had previously had problems with drugs and had spent some time in prison, but now he was out and working to improve his life. And, touchingly, he had also named his first child after grandfather Kirk.
Naturally, Michael honored his beloved wife as well. He called Zeta-Jones “the love of [his] life” before telling her, “I’m grateful for your support and your love and your patience. By the way, in another week we are celebrating our 18th anniversary, so thank you for the best 18 years of my life, sweetheart!”
And then the star called out to his father, who was seated in a wheelchair nearby. Michael said, “My dad is here. In a month, Kirk will be 102 years old! It means so much to me, Dad, that you’re here today. Thank you for your advice [and] inspiration, and I’ll say it simply and with all my heart: I’m so proud to be your son.”
Those heartrending words were echoed in a statement that Michael made after his father’s death. And of all of the tributes paid to the late star, his son’s was arguably the most touching of all. In his message on Instagram, Michael began, “It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103.”
Michael then went on to talk about his father’s illustrious career, writing, “To the world, [Kirk] 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.”
The Wall Street star also made sure to reference other family members who were similarly grieving the loss. Michael continued, “To me and my brothers Joel and Peter, he was simply dad, to Catherine, a wonderful father-in-law, to his grandchildren and great-grandchild their loving grandfather. And to his wife Anne, [he was] a wonderful husband.”
And Michael also mentioned his father’s achievements aside from acting. He went on, “Kirk’s life was well-lived, and he leaves a legacy in film that will endure for generations to come [as well as] a history as a renowned philanthropist who worked to aid the public and bring peace to the planet.” Indeed, Kirk donated to multiple good causes throughout his life.
Then Michael concluded his post by saying, “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.” To this, Zeta-Jones replied in the comments section, “He loved you so very much, my darling.”
Kirk’s funeral took place two days after his passing and was held at the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park and Mortuary in Los Angeles. Michael and brothers Joel and Peter were all in attendance along with Zeta-Jones and Kirk’s widow Buydens. Steven Spielberg, who of course had paid tribute to the actor on Instagram, was also present for the ceremony.
And Kirk’s family released more statements after that, too. On February 7, 2020, Michael’s daughter Carys spoke about her grandfather on Instagram, saying, “My pappy was and forever will be my inspiration, my biggest supporter and the best grandpa in the world. I remember I would send him videos of me from my dance competitions, and he would watch them on repeat.”
The young woman went on, “[Kirk] was, and still is, a tremendous inspiration to the world through not only his incredible acting career, but [also] his philanthropy and generosity that moved mountains. Although he was adored by millions, to me he was my pappy – my superhero. He came from nothing, yet through his drive and determination [he] made a name for himself.”
Carys concluded, “He joined our family together and lived an incredible long life. I spent 16 years of my life loving and being loved by Kirk Douglas, and that is the greatest gift I could ever have. I will forever be saving that last dance for you, pappy. I love you.” Her mother also wrote beneath the post, “What beautiful words from your beautiful heart to your beloved pappy. He loved you so very much. What an extraordinary angel you have surrounding you.”
And on February 10 Michael took to Instagram again to express gratitude for all the condolences that the family had received. Alongside a sweet photo of himself and Kirk together, the actor wrote, “Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful words. Our family is so grateful for your support, and we send our love to everyone!”
Meanwhile, Cameron chose to speak about his grandfather to The Hollywood Reporter. Michael’s son said, “These past couple of years, I moved about 15 minutes away from [Kirk and Anne] and have been spending a lot of time with [Kirk] – bringing my daughter Vivian over on weekends. Just watching the bond between my daughter and grandfather was extremely special.”
Cameron added, “One of the motivating factors behind bringing my family out to Los Angeles was to spend more time with [Kirk]. That says a lot about the man that he was in my life and my desire to get my career going again soon enough so that he would be able to see the trajectory of my life starting to go in a positive direction. It’s what he called ‘functioning.’”
“Losing [Kirk] is one of those things that, even when you sort of see it coming – he was 103 – it’s still difficult,” Cameron continued. “I take solace in the pride of being his grandson and having had the opportunity to spend as much time with him as I have. When I look at his life, what he accomplished and the way he carried himself, it’s hard for me to imagine anyone doing it any better.”
Not long after that, Michael’s youngest son, Dylan, also released a statement on his grandfather. He wrote on Instagram, “Though I am deeply sad by the death of my dear pappy, all I know from my life is that I want it to be long and good. I know full well that the life of Kirk Douglas was the longest and greatest I have ever seen.”
Dylan added, “They say don’t meet your heroes, but what they don’t tell you is if you’re lucky enough you can have your heroes be family – and pappy, you are my hero, and you always will be! I love and miss you, and thank you for the immense impact you had on my life.”
So, while the whole Douglas family will clearly miss Kirk very much, they can hopefully take solace in the fact that many others are also mourning his loss. And in perhaps the biggest tribute of all, Carys and Dylan apparently want to follow their grandfather’s lead by getting into the movie business themselves at some point – although they’ve got some mighty big shoes to fill.