Kirk Douglas, Oscar-nominated actor and humanitarian, dies at 103

Kirk Douglas, the iconic Hollywood star known for his roles in films like “Spartacus” and “The Bad and the Beautiful,” has died. He was 103.

Michael Douglas, the Oscar-winning actor and son of Kirk, confirmed his father's death in a post 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," Douglas wrote in his post.

From Amsterdam, New York, he was born as Issur Danielovitch before later changing his name to Kirk Douglas. Known for his chiseled physique, Douglas starred in Broadway productions and received a big break when he landed a role in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.”

His real breakthrough came as an unscrupulous boxer in 1949's "Champion,” a low-budget production he was advised to turn down.

"Before 'Champion' in 1949, I'd played an intellectual school teacher, a weak school teacher and an alcoholic," Douglas once said in an interview with the AP. "After 'Champion,' I was a tough guy. I did things like playing van Gogh, but the image lingers."

He had long desired creative control and “Champion" was followed by a run of hits that gave him the clout to form Bryna Productions in 1955, and a second company later.

He established himself as one of Hollywood’s leading men in the 1950s, garnering three Oscar nominations for Best Actor for his roles in “Lust for Life,” “Champion,” and “The Bad and the Beautiful.” His most notable performance, however, may be as the titular character in Stanley Kubrick’s landmark 1960 film, “Spartacus.”

The most famous words in a Douglas movie were spoken about him, but not by him.

In “Spartacus,” Roman officials tell a gathering of slaves their lives will be spared if they identify their leader, Spartacus. As Douglas rises to give himself up, a growing chorus of slaves jump up and shout, “I’m Spartacus!”

Douglas stands silently, a tear rolling down his face.

For that film, Douglas also received credit for helping to end the Hollywood blacklist era by pushing for the hiring of Dalton Trumbo, a screenwriter who, among other creative individuals in the industry, was being investigated his alleged Communist ties.

Many of his movies, such as Kubrick's "Paths of Glory," "The Vikings," "Spartacus," "Lonely Are the Brave" and "Seven Days in May," were produced by his companies.

As Michael Douglas once observed, few acts were so hard to follow. Kirk Douglas was an acrobat, a juggler, a self-taught man who learned French in his 30s and German in his 40s.

In the 1960s, in addition to his extensive acting reel, Douglas began to become known for his humanitarian work, serving as a goodwill ambassador for the U.S. State Department, according to the actor's website. He and his wife Anne also established The Douglas Foundation, a philanthropic organization committed to helping those who might not otherwise be able to help themselves."

His movie career largely faded during the 1960s and Douglas turned to other media.

In the 1970s and 1980s, he did several notable television films, including "Victory at Entebbe" and "Amos," which dealt with abuse of the elderly.

In his 70s, he became an author, his books including the memoir "The Ragman's Son," the novels "Dance With the Devil" and "The Gift" and a brief work on the making of “Spartacus.”

Douglas was first married to Diana Douglas from 1943 to 1951. The couple had two children, Michael and Joel. He later married Anne Buydens, with whom he had two children: Peter and Eric. He was with Anne until his death. 

Life was just so many walls to crash through, like the stroke in his 70s that threatened — but only threatened — to end his career. He continued to act and write for years and was past 100 when he and his wife published “Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood.”

He received an honorary award from the academy in 1996 for his “50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community.”

In 2003, Douglas teamed with son Michael; Cameron Douglas, Michael's 24-year-old son; and ex-wife Diana Douglas, Michael's mother, for "It Runs in the Family," a comic drama about three generations of a family, with a few digs worked in about the elder Douglas’ parenting.

In March 2009, he appeared in a one-man show, "Before I Forget," recounting his life and famous friends. The four-night show in the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City was sold out.

Hollywood stars began to pay their tributes to Douglas and his family in the wake of his death.

 The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also paid tribute to Douglas in a tweet.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.The Associated Press contributed to this report.