Almost from birth, Michael Douglas has been immersed in the entertainment industry. He has proved his mettle time and time again, through Oscar-winning films or through his off-screen activism. Of course, with a career spanning more than half a century, Douglas’s life is bound to have had its fair share of drama and intrigue. Keep reading to find out more about Michael Douglas!
Michael Douglas Facts
1. Father in Craft
Douglas’s first break into the entertainment industry was by co-starring in the crime drama series The Streets of San Francisco. The show ran for four years in the early 1970s. Douglas’s co-star was veteran Hollywood actor Karl Malden, with whom Douglas built a lasting relationship outside of work. Douglas frequently referred to Malden as his mentor and remained friends with the actor until Malden’s death in 2009.
2. Good Old Steve
One of Douglas’s most frequent collaborators is filmmaker Steven Soderbergh. He directed Douglas in three different films (Traffic, Behind the Candelabra, Haywire) and produced a fourth film (Solitary Man).
3. Hollywood Royalty
Michael Kirk Douglas was born on September 25, 1944, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He is the eldest son of Kirk Douglas and Diana Dill, both Hollywood actors. He has one full brother (Joel) and two half-brothers (Eric and Peter), all of whom work in the entertainment industry in some capacity.
4. What a Smash!
One thing that Michael Douglas shared in common with his father Kirk was a desire to see a film adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Kirk had sought to produce and star in a film based on the novel for years without success. In 1975, Douglas received the rights to the novel from his father in the hope that he might have some luck with the project.
With the help of producer Saul Zaentz, Douglas recruited European filmmaker Milos Forman as director and Jack Nicholson as the lead actor. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest came out in 1975, winning multiple Oscars and making more than 34 times its budget back! The success of the film was so great that at its world premiere, according to Roger Ebert, Douglas was “in a daze” over the unanimous praise that the film received.
5. Music in Your Soul!
It might surprise you that Michael Douglas has lent his singing voice to two different productions. The most recent example was when he played Liberace in Behind the Candelabra and performed two songs as the famous showman. The earlier film was the 1985 musical Chorus Line, nearly 30 years prior.
6. My Kind of Town
One recurring theme of Douglas’s films is a particular setting. Five of Douglas’s film and television projects (Ant-Man and its sequel, The Game, The Streets of San Francisco, and Basic Instinct) all take place in San Francisco. Of course, we can hardly blame him for wanting to spend more time in the city by the bay.
7. Lifelong Co-Worker
When he started out his career in the 1960s, Michael Douglas was living in New York City, paying $150 per month for his apartment. His roommate was another then-unknown actor trying to find his way in the world. It was, in fact, none other than Danny DeVito. The two men went on to make six films together as of 2019, including Romancing the Stone, which was Douglas’s big break into the film industry.
8. Long in the Tooth
One of Douglas’s more recent successes as an actor was the HBO movie Behind the Candelabra, where he brings to life the famous musician and celebrity Liberace. Critics lauded Douglas for his performance as the iconic performer, even though he was quite a bit older than the singer was during the events of the film.
In fact, Douglas was older than Liberace ever lived to be. He was 68 at the time of filming, while Liberace died at 67.
9. Mike & Joel
Rare among actors, Michael Douglas has worked alongside certain directors as both an actor and as a producer. One example of this is filmmaker Joel Schumacher. Douglas not only starred in Schumacher’s 1993 drama Falling Down (more on that later), he also produced the director’s 1990 thriller Flatliners. Douglas later returned to produce the 2017 remake of Flatliners—though this time, Schumacher wasn’t involved.
10. Love and Marriage
Michael Douglas has had two wives in his life, with whom he’s had three children. His first wife was Diandra Luker, and the couple had one son, Cameron. Douglas and Luker divorced in 1995, nearly 18 years after they got married. The actor later had two more children with his second wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, to whom he’s still married to this day.
11. What are the Odds?
On the subject of Douglas’s wives, it might interest you to know that in both cases, Douglas has been the elder of his partners. He was 14 years older than his first wife and is 25 years older than Catherine Zeta-Jones, his second wife. In a remarkable coincidence, we can confirm that Douglas is exactly 25 years older than Zeta-—because the two of them share the same birthday, September 25.
12. Success Begets Success
Since we’ve mentioned it already, let’s tackle Romancing the Stone. This 1984 film stars Kathleen Turner as a romance novelist and Michael Douglas as Jack Colton, a smuggler, and adventurer. The two of them team up to find a legendary emerald in South America. As you can imagine, many critics accused the film being nothing more than an Indiana Jones ripoff, but it turned out to be a massive success for all involved.
Interestingly, it was also the first big hit in the film career of its director, Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis even credited this film’s triumph as the reason why he was able to make Back to the Future soon after.
13. Diverse Accolades
During his career, Michael Douglas has won two Academy Awards. One of them was for acting in Wall Street, and the other was a Best Picture Oscar for producing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The only other person who has ever won the Best Actor and Best Picture awards is Laurence Olivier.
14. Oh, the Possibilities!
Marvel fans might remember that Douglas’s role as Hank Pym in the Ant-Man series involves flashbacks where Douglas appears de-aged via special effects. Douglas was reportedly very excited by the new technology, even joking that he was ready to make a prequel to one of his older films! We’d advise him not to give Hollywood dangerous ideas like that, but that’s just us.
15. How Fitting
While we’re still talking about Ant-Man and Douglas’s age, he marked his 70th birthday on the set of the first Ant-Man film. In celebration, the cast and crew presented him with a birthday cake. As a loving tribute to the film they were working on, they decorated the cake’s icing with…ants crawling all over a reel of film. Yummy?
16. Take Your Kid to Work Day
When you have two parents who are both actors, there’s a good chance that your career will have some overlap with theirs. Such was true of Michael Douglas and his father and mother. Douglas has acted alongside his mother in two different films, and he’s worked with his father in five.
17. We’ve Gone Too Far This Time
Speaking of familial collaboration, one film was like a family reunion for Michael Douglas and his family. Starring Douglas, his parents, and Douglas’s son Cameron, the film is literally called It Runs in the Family. Sadly, for the Douglas clan, critics were dismissive of the “stunt casting,” even as the film was a critical and commercial failure.
18. Missed Opportunity
In the late 1960s, producers offered Michael Douglas the lead role in a film adaptation of Erich Segal’s Love Story. Even though he was still a young up-and-coming actor at the time, he turned the offer down. Not even a promise of 10% of the film’s gross could persuade him to change his mind. The role went to Ryan O’Neal instead, and Love Story went on to make all the money in 1970.
If Douglas had accepted, he would have made more than $13 million for the part, which would be worth nearly $90 million in 2019.
19. I Like This Place
In 2009, Michael Douglas filmed several scenes for the film Solitary Man at Fordham University. The following year, he returned to the university to shoot scenes for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. On a side note, both these films featured Susan Sarandon as his co-star. Coincidence? Probably…
20. Giving Back
Throughout his life, Douglas spent much of his free time working for numerous humanitarian causes. He has long been an advocate for nuclear disarmament, sitting on the board of the Nuclear Threat Initiative. In 2003, Douglas also hosted a documentary on the subject of child soldiers, interviewing several former child soldiers as part of the project. Additionally, the United Nations named Douglas a Messenger of Peace in 1998.
The Messengers of Peace typically serve in their position for three years, but Douglas has held the title for more than two decades. I guess he’s doing a good job!
21. Likely Wouldn’t Fly Today
If there’s one film that Douglas made which proved particularly polarizing, it was the erotic thriller Basic Instinct. Douglas co-stars as an antiheroic police detective who becomes embroiled in a string of murders, for which a crime novelist femme fatale, played by Sharon Stone, is the prime suspect. Because Stone’s psychopathic character is bisexual, various LGBTQ groups in the denounced and protested the film.
This didn’t stop Basic Instinct from being the fourth-highest grossing film of 1992, however.
22. And Paul Verhoeven Wept
On the subject matter of Basic Instinct and the highly negative backlash it received due to its negative portrayal of a bisexual character, it’s worth pointing out that Sharon Stone’s antagonistic character wasn’t meant to be the only bisexual in the film. The protagonist, played by Douglas, was also supposed to be bisexual. Douglas, however, insisted the character be heterosexual.
Douglas also nixed the idea that he would, like Sharon Stone, appear nude onscreen. I have a feeling Stone wasn’t given that option.
23. Etched into the Pavement
On November 6, 2018, Douglas received his own Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. You can go find it at 6259 Hollywood Boulevard.
24. Dangerous Talk
One of the most controversial films of Douglas’s career would have to be Falling Down, where he portrays a middle-class white man who is traveling to the home of his estranged wife to attend his daughter’s birthday party. On the way, he unleashes his rage against society’s shortcomings, as he sees them, with escalating levels of violence.
Despite portraying Douglas’s character as the villain of the story, many in the audience viewed him as a sympathetic, even heroic, figure. This caused a backlash against the film for pushing hostility towards minorities and promoting the trope of the “angry white male.”
25. How Tragic
Speaking of the controversy around Douglas’s Falling Down, one audience member took the most negative aspects of the film to heart in order to fuel his own twisted outlook on life. In 2015, a man murdered his neighbors, three Muslim Americans living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The shooter was reportedly obsessed with Falling Down for all the wrong reasons. He thought that Douglas’s character was heroic and admirable.
Sadly, just like Douglas’s character in Falling Down, the shooter had access to guns, which he used to take the lives of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. He is currently serving three consecutive life sentences.
26. In an Alternate Universe…
Before Douglas secured the role of Jack T. Colton in Romancing the Stone and its sequel, The Jewel of the Nile, one actor who producers strongly considered for the role was Sylvester Stallone. Frankly, we think Stallone would have had as much success with that role as Douglas would have had with Rocky Balboa!
27. Our Hero!
Despite playing the villain in Wall Street, Douglas ironically inspired countless people to pursue careers in economics and the stock market because of what they saw in Gordon Gekko. In fact, when researching for his role in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Shia LaBeouf met many traders who agreed to give him insights into the business…on the condition that they got to meet Douglas and tell him how much of an inspiration he was.
This wouldn’t be the last time that Douglas inspired people for all the wrong reasons, but more on that later…
28. For the Kids
Throughout most of his career, Douglas has focused on making R-rated films meant for adult audiences. This changed by the time he was cast in Ant-Man, as by then, Douglas had two young children who loved that their father was going to be in a movie they could enjoy.
29. He’s Radioactive, Don’t Touch Him!
When it was time to find a Gordon Gekko, several people warned Oliver Stone against casting Douglas. They believed that Douglas, better known as a producer than an actor at the time, would either spend all his time on the phone, or else undermine Stone’s authority on set. Stone ignored these warnings, cast Douglas anyway, and production never suffered because of Douglas.
…At least, as far as we know, anyway.
30. Try Anything Once
Despite being a highly accomplished actor and producer, Douglas has only ever tried his hand at directing once, and it wasn’t even for a feature film. In 1975, Douglas directed an episode of the TV series The Streets of San Francisco. It must not have been a fun experience for him, because it’s the only directing credit he ever earned for himself.
31. Not Just Business
Starring as Liberace in Behind the Candelabra was more than just an acting job for Douglas; there was a personal connection to the man through Douglas’s family. The Douglas family owned a home in Palm Springs, right down the street from Liberace’s. Though Douglas never formally met the singer, he would often see him around the neighborhood.
Additionally, Liberace’s former lover, Scott Thorson, claimed that only two Hollywood celebrities paid their respects at Liberace’s memorial service. One of these stars was none other than Douglas’s father, Kirk.
32. Calling B.S.
For years, there was a rumor that a venomous snake bit Douglas during filming for Romancing the Stone. He only survived because his co-star, Danny DeVito personally intervened and sucked the venom out of Douglas’s wound. As remarkable as that sounds, Douglas himself confirmed that it didn’t happen. Just another false Hollywood legend.
He debunked the story on a 2018 episode of Late Night with Seth Meyers. Oh well, it was a fun anecdote while it lasted.
33. What a Pervert!
When people think of Basic Instinct today, they think of one scene: the police, including Douglas, are interrogating Sharon Stone when she…gives them more of a view than they expected. While working with Douglas on Ant-Man, Paul Rudd allegedly tried to prank Douglas by re-enacting the scene. Let’s just say that Douglas was far from impressed.
As Rudd put it, Douglas’s response was something along the lines of, “What are you, a ****ing pervert?” Sorry Paul, I guess you’re no Sharon Stone.
34. Greed is *Cough Cough* Sorry….
When Douglas first read the screenplay for Wall Street, he’d just finished playing a romantic hero, so he wanted someone more sinister to portray. However, he found the character’s many monologues and rapid-fire conversation to be daunting. It didn’t help that at this point in his life, Douglas smoked around 40 cigarettes per day.
Due to the nature of his dialogue, Douglas actually needed the assistance of a speech instructor on breath control.
35. Paying it Forward
When Douglas produced One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, his father Kirk was disappointed to find out that his son considered him too old to play the lead role of McMurphy (as he’d wanted to do for so long). Douglas himself reflected that his father “played up” this disappointment for quite some time—ignoring the fact that since Douglas listed his father as one of the film’s producers, Kirk made a great deal of money off the film’s successful box office run!
36. Taken Too Soon
An unknown Malibu waitress by the name of Diane Thomas wrote the screenplay for Romancing the Stone. Douglas optioned the script for $250,000, allowing Thomas to pursue her dream of screenwriting full time. Sadly, Thomas never lived to build her career beyond Romancing the Stone. She died in a fatal car crash the following year.
In a layer of tragic irony, Douglas actually bought the car she was driving in at the time of the crash as a present for her. The Jewel of the Nile, the sequel to Romancing the Stone, was released seven weeks after Thomas’s death, and Douglas had the film dedicated to her.
37. Back to the Well
In 2017, Netflix announced that they were developing a prequel to the Douglas-produced One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Douglas will return as an executive producer for the upcoming series. Titled Ratched, the series will follow the villainous Nurse Ratched from when she first becomes a nurse to how she evolved into the monster that she was in the book and film.
Actress Sarah Paulson is set to portray the sadistic nurse in the series.
38. On Medical Leave
Long-time fans of Douglas might remember that for three years, beginning in 1980, the actor didn’t appear in any films. This was because of a terrible skiing accident he suffered in 1980. His injuries were such that his acting career was completely sidelined until 1983.
39. Thanks, Pal!
As we’ve mentioned, Douglas won an Academy Award for his work as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. For as iconic of a performance as Gekko, you can imagine that Douglas had some incredible inspiration to portray such a charismatic villain. Reportedly, one of Douglas’s main inspirations was a friend of his: none other than famed Los Angeles Lakers head coach Pat Riley.
40. In the Name of Art?
During Douglas’s film Fatal Attraction, there is an intense scene where Douglas’s character argues with his wife, much to the distress of their young daughter (played by Ellen Latzen). For the scene where Latzen reacts to the argument, Douglas went behind the camera filming her and began bullying her. He made fun of the “stupid” unicorn she was carrying and threatened to take it away.
Naturally, this caused Latzen to begin crying and clinging to her toy as Douglas went on. Although he immediately apologized after the camera stopped rolling, Douglas admitted that decades later, he still felt guilty for what he did that day.
41. Health Problems
In 2010, Douglas revealed that he was suffering from cancer (at the time, he claimed it was throat cancer, but later revealed it was actually tongue cancer). Douglas underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Although reports claimed the cancer was stage IV, Douglas announced in 2011 that the tumor was gone.
Douglas later claimed in 2013 that the type of cancer had been caused by HPV, transmitted via sexual contact, leading many to infer he was inadvertently blaming his own wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones. His spokesman later denied these reports.
42. Credit Where it’s Due
In regards to his cancer diagnosis, Douglas was quick to credit the Canadian doctors who made the diagnosis in the first place (he was in Montreal at the time). Douglas was particularly determined to do this because he had a chip on his shoulder when it came to the American healthcare system, which had frequently failed to notice the cancer growing inside his body.
Since his treatment, Douglas has taken part in several fundraisers for both McGill University Health Centre and the Jewish General Hospital, both located in Montreal.