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Friday, 16 February, 2001, 10:30 GMT
Kirk Douglas: Hollywood's fighter
Kirk Douglas
Douglas has starred in more than 80 films
Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas will be honoured by the Berlin International Film Festival on Friday with a Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement.

The 84-year-old actor, producer and director will receive the prestigious award in person from festival director Moritz de Hadeln.

It is only the 12th time in the festival's 51-year history that the award has been given.

His characters are marked by a tremendous drive and independence, are tough and uneven, at times difficult - not unlike Douglas himself

Festival director Moritz de Hadeln on Kirk Douglas

Previous recipients include James Stewart, Sophia Loren and Sir Alec Guinness.

The festival director explained why Douglas had been chosen to follow in their shoes.

"Kirk Douglas undoubtedly embodies the quintessence of the pioneering spirit and typical American individualism.

"His characters are marked by a tremendous drive and independence, are tough and uneven, at times difficult - not unlike Douglas himself."


The star of classic movies The Vikings, Spartacus, Champion and Gunfight at the OK Corral will go down in history as one of Hollywood's true fighters.

He has appeared in more than 80 films with most of the movie world's biggest stars.

Kirk Douglas as the hero of Spartacus
Kirk Douglas as the hero of Spartacus

As well as being the father of Michael Douglas, he will also be known for his influence in putting an end to McCarthy's Hollywood blacklist.

Douglas was born Issur Danielovich Demsky to Russian Jewish immigrant parents in New York on 9 December 1916.

He waited tables to finance his education at St Lawrence University, where he was an intercollegiate wrestling champion.

But Douglas also had odd jobs in the theatre and it was here that his desire to be an actor began.

After leaving university, and a spell as a professional wrestler, Douglas trained at the Academy of Dramatic Arts.

He made a brief appearance on Broadway before being called up by the US Navy in 1943, but returned to the stage after the war.

He began to get more meaty parts and in 1946 one of his former classmates, the now also legendary Lauren Bacall, recommended him to the producer Hal Wallis.
Kirk in Champion
Champion established Douga's persona

Douglas tested for the lead role in Wallis's The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and his film career began.

But it was not until his Oscar-nominated role as the washed-up boxer Midge Kelly in Champion in 1949 that Douglas put his foot on the ladder to success.


Douglas went on to establish his cocky, often selfish, screen persona during the 1950s in movies such as Ace in the Hole and Gunfight at the OK Corral.

Further Oscar nominations followed for his roles in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) and Lust for Life (1956), both directed by Vincente Minnelli.

Kirk Douglas movies
Champion - 1944
Act of Love - 1953
Gunfight at the OK Corral - 1957
Vikings - 1958
Spartacus - 1960
To Catch a Spy - 1971
Posse - 1975
Tough Guys - 1986

It was at this time that Douglas also formed his own production company, Bryna Productions.

Amongst the films that came out of the company was Stanley Kubrick's 1960 Roman epic Spartacus - in which Douglas starred.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Douglas starred in and produced movies, including John Huston's The List of Adrian Messenger and John Frankenheimer's Seven Days in May.

In 1975, he acted, produced and directed the western Posse and by the 1980s Douglas had begun to take a step away from the big screen.

Instead, he started devoting a lot of his time to civic duties, including acting as a goodwill ambassador for the US State Department.

Kirk Douglas in Gunfight at OK Corral
Gunfight at OK Corral was another Douglas hit

In 1981, he was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1983, he was honoured with the Jefferson Award.

His other awards include being named Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in France for his artistic contributions, the American Cinema Award and the National Board of Review's Career Achievement Award.

In 1995, Douglas suffered a stroke which which paralysed one side of his face.

But Douglas, never one to give up, gave a speech to the American Film Institute just a few months later, after accepting a lifetime achievement award.

That same year, he was also presented with an honorary Oscar.

In addition to his film work, Douglas has also published two novels, Dance with the Devil and The Secret.

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See also:

16 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Golden Bear for Kirk Douglas
07 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Berlin film festival opens
05 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Berlin honour for Douglas senior
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