Kirk Douglas, one of the greatest actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood, died in 2020 at the age of 103. After decades of fame, including 75 movie credits, Douglas accumulated a net worth of approximately $61 million. When he passed, his will left nothing from his fortune to his children, so where did all that money go? We’ll find out and learn more about his long and distinguished life along the way.
Born Issur Danielovitch Demsky on December 19, 1916, Kirk Douglas grew up in an impoverished, Russian-Jewish immigrant family in Amsterdam, New York. Despite growing up in the ghetto, Douglas excelled academically and athletically and wrestled professionally to help fund his university career. He was able to secure a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts which was both his way out of poverty and his way into acting.
Douglas had a short stint on Broadway, performing in Spring Again, until his acting career was interrupted by the inclusion of the US in WWII in 1941. Not long after the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, he joined the US Navy. He once said in an interview, “I felt a wave of patriotism and a wave of Jewishness about what was happening in Europe with Hitler.”
Douglas’ military career wasn’t particularly distinguished, but he did suffer abdominal wounds after a shipmate mistakenly launched a live ashcan while patrolling the Pacific Theater. It exploded under the water, launched the USS PC-1139 into the air, and dangerously tossed the crew around. Because of his injuries, he was sent to San Diego’s Balboa Hospital, where they discovered he had chronic amoebic dysentery.
His acting career really takes off
After returning home from his service in WWII, Douglas went back into acting. He scored his first Hollywood film in 1946, starring as Walter O’Neil in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. Although this was his first time on film, his real breakthrough performance would come as Midge Kelly, the optimistic and stubborn boxer in the film Champion (1949). His portrayal of Midge earned him his first Academy Award.
Douglas continued to star in films in the following years, and in 1955 he opened his own production company called Bryna Productions. This company would produce two of the most pivotal film roles in his career – as Colonel Dax in Paths of Glory (1957), and as Spartacus in Spartacus (1960). Douglas’ knack for acting kept him on the big screen well into his old age.
A longtime humanitarian
A lesser-known fact about Douglas was his commitment to philanthropic work. Once he found fame, the hardships of his childhood inspired him to help others, so that they may have a better life. Throughout his career, Douglas made countless charitable donations. Most notably, he served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the US State Department since 1963 which won him the highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented to him by President Jimmy Carter in 1981.
In 1964, he and his second wife, Anne, founded the Douglas Foundation. As per their website, “The Douglas Foundation’s principal goal is to help those who cannot otherwise help themselves. Its primary focus is improving education and health, fostering well-being, and most importantly developing new opportunities for the children who hold our future in their hands.”
Additionally, the Douglas Foundation supports medical research, supplies necessary equipment, and funds programs within the health system with the intention to improve the quality of care in local communities.
Kirk Douglas continues his philanthropy after death
By the time he was 103 years old, Douglas had amassed a net worth of $61 million. His charitable demeanor did not end with his death in February 2020, as he had $50 million of his $61 million donated to his own organization, the Douglas Foundation, after he passed away. Over the years, the Douglas Foundation has become “one of the entertainment industry’s largest and oldest private philanthropic institutions.”