Kirk Douglas, who was honored as an Outstanding American by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1992, passed away on Wednesday, at the age of 103.
“On behalf of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, I want to extend our sympathies to the family and friends of Kirk Douglas,” said Lee Roy Smith, Executive Director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. “As an Outstanding American of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Mr. Douglas’s passion for the sport of wrestling went hand and hand with his ability to pursue and achieve his goals and dreams in life. From a ragman’s son to one of the most accomplished actors in the world, Mr. Douglas epitomizes what it means to be a magnanimous human being.”
Born in New York in 1916, the son of illiterate Russian immigrants, Issur Danielovitch became Kirk Douglas, and established a fabulous career as a star of the Broadway stage, the silver screens of motion pictures and television, and a noted movie producer.
Douglas attended St. Lawrence University on a wrestling scholarship, competing as Isadore Demsky, and worked as a janitor to meet school expenses. He credits wrestling for the discipline and physical fitness necessary to perform his vigorous acting roles. Douglas graduated from St. Lawrence with a degree in English and participated in dramatic productions on campus. The University awarded him an honorary degree in 1958.
Named among the 50 greatest screen legends of all time by the American Film Institute, Mr. Douglas appeared in more than 85 films, including classics such as Spartacus, Lonely Are the Brave, Lust for Life, and Gunfight at the OK Corral. He was also the producer of Spartacus, a significant and principled moment in history, because he was the first in Hollywood to hire a black-listed writer who had been unemployed for many years owing to the insidious effects of McCarthyism, an anti-communist movement in America occurring at the start of the Cold War. Mr. Douglas received an honorary Academy Award in 1995. He earned three Academy Award nominations and his independent company produced such memorable films as Paths of Glory, The Vikings, Spartacus, Lonely Are the Brave and Seven Days in May.
He was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981 and the National Medal of the Arts in 2001. He has been elected to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and has been named an Officer of the French Legion of Honor. Other honors include the New York Film Critics Award, the Hollywood Foreign Press Award, the George Washington Carver Award of Merit, and the Cecil B. DeMille Award.
In addition, he is a best-selling author, having written 11 books including a soon to be published work of poetry titled Life Could be Verse. As a playwright, his recent one-man show Before I Forget was acclaimed by audiences in Los Angeles.
He and his wife, Anne Douglas, founded the Los Angeles-based Douglas Foundation in 1964 to focus primarily on health and educational programs.
In 1999, they established the Kirk Douglas Scholarship to help young people from backgrounds similar to Kirk’s own formative years during the Great Depression. They increased the scholarship substantially as part of the Campaign for Every Laurentian with an additional donation, bringing the total to $7.5 million. The Kirk Douglas Scholarship is specifically meant to promote diversity on campus by giving awards to underrepresented students who excel academically.
In 2015, Money magazine named the Kirk Douglas Scholarship among its list of seven celebrities who help students afford their college education.
In 2014, St. Lawrence University named its newest building and residential facility Kirk Douglas Hall. The residence hall also includes the popular Spartacus Café.