Kirk Douglas Served in the Navy in 1941

Any obituary or reflection about Kirk Douglas is incomplete without the word ‘legend.’

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When Kirk Douglas died in February 2020, it marked the end of an era. At age 103, he was one of the last living actors from Hollywood’s Golden Age. His best-known roles were as the star of Spartacus and in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

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He was also a World War II veteran, fought the Hollywood black list, and father of children including Michael Douglas. Any obituary or reflection about Kirk Douglas is incomplete without the word “legend.”

Kirk Douglas’ Early Years

Kirk Douglas was born on December 9, 1916, in Amsterdam, New York, according to Douglas’ parents were Jewish immigrants from present-day Belarus. He had six sisters.

His real name was Issur Danielovitch Demsky, and he also went by the nickname, Izzy Demsky.

Douglas detailed his early years in his 1988 autobiography, The Ragman’s Son, according to

“My father, who had been a horse trader in Russia, got himself a horse and a small wagon, and became a ragman, buying old rags, pieces of metal, and junk for pennies, nickels, and dimes,” Douglas wrote. “Even on Eagle Street, in the poorest section of town, where all the families were struggling, the ragman was on the lowest rung on the ladder. And I was the ragman’s son.”

Douglas held a string of odd jobs during his youth, ranging from newspaper deliveryman to janitor.

Kirk Douglas Launches His Career

Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Douglas enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1941, according to He served as a communications officer and was medically discharged for war injuries in 1944.

According to, Douglas later wrote in a memoir: “I looked great in my dress dress uniform, but nothing else about my service was distinguished.”

Also in 1944, his wife Diana Dill gave birth to their son Michael Douglas, who would become a famous actor in his own right. The Douglas parents had another child, Joel, in 1947 — then divorced four years later.

After leaving the Navy, Douglas went back to New York and worked in network soap operas and the theater. His friend Lauren Bacall helped him get his first big-screen role, alongside Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers in 1946.

Kirk Douglas’ Long-Lasting Relationship With Hollywood

Douglas earned his first Academy Award nomination with 1949’s Champion, according to His subsequent film credits include 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful, 1956’s Lust for Life, 1964’s Seven Days in May, and 1986’s Tough Guys.

The American Film Institute slotted him at #17 on its list of best male screen legends in U.S. film history. He got the Academy Honorary Award in 1996 for “50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community.”

He also received a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Douglas’ final role as in the made-for-TV movie Empire State Building Murders in 2008.

Douglas wrote 10 novels and memoirs. He survived a helicopter crash in 1991 and a stroke in 1996. He was married to his second wife, producer Anne Buydens, for 65 years.

Douglas died on February 5, 2020, in Beverly Hills, California.

“It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103,” Michael Douglas said in a statement, according to People.

“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.”

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