Few figures have had such an impact on Hollywood as Michael Douglas – be that in front of or behind the camera. At the same time, it could almost be said that Douglas is underappreciated, with the star rarely ranking in lists of top actors.
So let’s take some time to reminisce about Douglas’ glory days, consider his legacy, and celebrate the work he still does – even as he stretches into his late 70s.
20. He has British citizenship with Bermudian status
Michael Kirk Douglas was born on the 25th September 1944 to Kirk Douglas and Diana Dill, the first son of the couple.
As his parents were both actors, Douglas has always been Hollywood royalty – but you might not have known he has dual citizenship.
As well as being a US citizen by birth, Douglas also has British citizenship with Bermudian status.
This is because his mother was born in Bermuda, which is self-governing but still officially a British overseas territory.
In Bermuda, Douglas’ cousin, the Right Reverend Nicholas Dill, serves as the Bishop of the Anglican Church.
Douglas’ status is no technicality, however: he still owns property there. “I’ve gone there all my life,” he told Ocean Home magazine in 2018.
19. Michael Keaton has to go by another name because of Douglas
When he got his first real acting role, Douglas hoped to be credited as Mike Douglas, as he was known to his family and friends.
However, Douglas found himself unable to use this name, because another prominent public figure already had it.
Mike Douglas was also the name of a well-known TV talk show host (pictured above), so there were at the time concerns about the actor being confused with the presenter.
Because of this, Douglas was listed as M.K. Douglas in the credits for his first show, a 1969 CBS TV Playhouse special entitled The Experiment.
Perhaps ironically, another actor born Michael Douglas would later be forced to adopt a stage name to avoid confusion with the other actor: Michael Keaton, actually born Michael John Douglas.
18. He was once sued for hitting someone in the groin with a golf ball
In 1997, Douglas was sued by a golfing caddie called James Parker following a golfing mishap.
And what was that mishap? Well, Parker claimed that Douglas hit him in the groin with a golf ball during a game.
According to Parker, Douglas did not call out “fore!” before taking his shot, and the resulting impact ruptured one of Parker’s testicles.
As a result, Parker took out a lawsuit demanding an equally eye-watering $115 million in damages – while also claiming the actor racially abused him, which Douglas vehemently denied.
Ultimately the case was settled out of court in November 1999, mere days before Douglas was married to Catherine Zeta-Jones.
17. His first words to Catherine Zeta-Jones were “I want to father your children”
Douglas began dating Catherine Zeta-Jones in 1999, and Zeta-Jones has since revealed that the older actor’s first words to her were rather direct.
According to the Welsh actress, when she met Douglas for the first time in Deauville, France, he said to her, “I want to father your children.”
Some might call that bold, others might regard it corny, whilst others might say it’s borderline harassment – but it would seem to have worked.
Fans of both stars were taken aback by Douglas and Zeta-Jones becoming an item, particularly given that she is 25 years his junior.
Nonetheless, the couple tied the knot in 2000, and are still together 20 years later, with two children.
16. He claims the throat cancer he developed in 2010 was caused by oral sex
It was made public in 2010 that Douglas was suffering with advanced stage throat cancer.
However, it later came to light that Douglas was actually suffering from oropharyngeal (tongue) cancer.
Douglas was at first guarded about this diagnosis for fears of how it would affect his image, as tongue cancer is likely to cause disfigurement.
As is usual for those suffering from cancer, Douglas underwent extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Happily, Douglas is now cancer-free – although he did spark controversy for widely-reported remarks that his particular form of cancer could be caused by oral sex.
15. His family were once threatened by a stalker who was ‘in love’ with Douglas
In 2004, Douglas and Zeta-Jones took legal action against Dawnette Knight, an obsessive stalker.
Knight claimed to be in love with Douglas, and sent the couple letters that made threats on Zeta-Jones’ life.
Zeta-Jones testified in court during the trial, saying Knight’s actions almost drove her to a nervous breakdown.
Initially Knight denied the offences, but ultimately admitted to one count of stalking and three counts of making criminal threats.
Knight was then sentenced to three years in prison, and forced to pay a nominal $200 to Zeta-Jones, who called Knight “evil”.
14. He worked with a speech instructor to prepare for Wall Street
The part of Gordon Gekko in 1987’s Wall Street was the most significant leading role Douglas had landed up to that point, and it wound up netting him an Academy Award.
Director Oliver Stone (who had originally approached Warren Beatty and Richard Gere for the role) admits that he was cautioned against casting Douglas by many in the industry.
The director says, “I was warned by everyone in Hollywood that Michael couldn’t act, that he was a producer more than an actor and would spend all his time in his trailer on the phone,” but Stone found that “when he’s acting he gives it his all.”
Douglas took the role very seriously, working with a speech instructor to help with breathing control, due to the rapid-fire nature of Wall Street’s dialogue.
No doubt this was a particular challenge for Douglas as he was a heavy chain-smoker at the time, averaging 40 cigarettes a day.
13. He was unsure about signing up for Basic Instinct – before it became one of the biggest hits of his career
By the early 90s, Douglas was already closely associated with the erotic thriller genre, having played the lead in the widely-debated 1987 film Fatal Attraction.
Even so, the actor was hesitant in signing on to play the lead in another erotic thriller, Basic Instinct, for director Paul Verhoeven.
For this reason, when Douglas signed on to play Detective Nick Curran, he was keen that a similarly big name actress took the female lead of seductress and possible serial killer Catherine Tramell.
Douglas – who reportedly wanted Julia Roberts or Kim Basinger as his co-star – is quoted as having said, “I need someone to share the risks of this movie. I don’t want to be up there all by myself. There’s going to be a lot of s*** flying around.”
Ultimately, when just about every A-list actress in Hollywood turned Basic Instinct down because of its provocative nature, the comparatively unknown Sharon Stone was cast – and while the film did indeed prove very controversial, it was also a massive hit.
12. He was treated for drug and alcohol addiction in the early 90s
In 1992 (the same year that Basic Instinct was released), Douglas checked into rehab for drug and alcohol addiction.
The actor’s rehabilitation program consisted of a 30-day stay at the Sierra Tucson Centre in Arizona.
Douglas has spoken openly of his problems with substances, and the impact they came to have on his family.
Douglas’ eldest son, Cameron (also an actor), has struggled with drug addiction for much of his life, something that Douglas accepts some responsibility for.
Michael said in 2019, “My career came before my family. My marriage was not great, and so you do hide yourself in your work. I should have focused more on my family.”
11. He used to own a record label with Maya Rudolph’s dad
While Douglas is primarily associated with film and television, he also had a brief dalliance with the music business at his 90s peak.
In 1992, Douglas founded record label Third Stone Records with music producer Richard Rudolph (widower of iconic singer Minnie Ripperton, with whom he fathered actress Maya Rudolph).
The label was an imprint of Atlantic Records, a larger label that handled Third Stone Records’ distribution.
Douglas served as the chairman of Third Stone Records whilst Rudolph was president, and among their roster of artists was Nona Gaye, daughter of soul legend Marvin Gaye.
However, Third Stone Records didn’t last long, and by 1993 most of its acts had been absorbed by parent company Atlantic.
10. His films as producer include Starman, Flatliners and Face/Off
Given that Douglas had already enjoyed a lot of success as a producer before breaking through as an actor, it’s not too surprising that he’s admitted feeling conflicted about which career to prioritise.
Douglas has said, “I love the fact that on one side, with acting, you can be a child – acting is wonderful for its innocence and the fun.”
“On the other side, producing is fun for all the adult kinds of things you do. You deal in business, you deal with the creative forces. As an adult who continues to get older, you like the adult risks.”
All in all, though, Douglas has prioritised acting: he has 67 credits to his name in that capacity, whilst as a producer his credits number 27 at present.
Still, unlike some actor-producers (such as Tom Cruise), Douglas has produced plenty of films he didn’t star in: as well as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, he’s produced Starman, Flatliners and Face/Off, amongst others.
9. He’s one of only two people to have both the Best Actor and Best Picture Oscar
If you’ve ever seen Douglas’s mesmerising performance in Wall Street, then you won’t be at all surprised to learn that it won him an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Douglas was truly in his element playing rich ‘corporate raider’ Gordon Gekko, and whilst he was brilliant in many of his other roles, this was definitely the one that suited him the most.
But did you know that he also won an Oscar back in the 1970s, before he was established as a Hollywood leading man?
Douglas won his first Academy Award as a producer way back in 1975, when One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest won Best Picture (this award is given to the producer). Douglas had acquired the rights to Ken Kesey’s novel from his dad, Kirk Douglas.
This makes Douglas one of only two people to be awarded both the Best Picture and Best Actor Oscars: the other is Sir Laurence Olivier, who took both awards in 1949 for Hamlet.
8. He got his first uncredited film role in 1966
While Douglas would make his official acting debut as M.K. Douglas in 1969, he actually made his screen debut three years earlier, without credit.
This was in the 1966 film Cast a Giant Shadow, in which Michael’s father, Kirk Douglas, co-starred with fellow legends John Wayne and Frank Sinatra.
The younger Douglas was called into action when an extra was asked to pull off a risky manoeuvre behind the wheel of a jeep.
The extra refused, feeling the move was too dangerous – so the elder Douglas quickly summoned his son.
Kirk had faith that his son was a good enough driver to do it, and Michael soon proved him right, pulling off the stunt as directed.
7. He helped launch Robert Zemeckis’ career
It was arguably 1984’s Romancing the Stone that really established Douglas as a bankable leading man – but the film also saved the career of its director.
Douglas was the main producer on the romantic comedy adventure, and was responsible for hiring Robert Zemeckis to direct.
At the time, Zemeckis was struggling to break through, after directing the flops I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Used Cars, and co-writing Steven Spielberg’s infamous misfire 1941.
Thanks to Douglas believing in him, Zemeckis finally had a hit on his hands – which was enough to get him a green light for his next movie, Back to the Future.
Of course, Back to the Future became one of the biggest hits of the 80s, leading to Zemeckis making such blockbusters as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump and Contact.
6. He converted to Judaism following his cancer diagnosis
While Douglas is of Jewish descent on his father’s side, his mother was not Jewish and he was not raised in the faith.
However, Michael did come to embrace Judaism late in life – in the wake of his cancer diagnosis, in fact.
Identifying as a Reform Jew, Douglas was inspired both by his father Kirk, who embraced his faith in his later years, and his own son Dylan, who is also a strong believer.
In 2015 Michael was honoured by the Genesis Prize Foundation, a group that promotes Jewish culture.
This was a controversial move, given Douglas is a late convert, and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones is not Jewish.
5. John Lennon’s death inspired him to become a strong supporter of gun control
Like most Hollywood leading men, Douglas has taken more than his share of gun-toting roles – most notoriously in the film Falling Down.
However, in real life Douglas is no great fan of firearms, and has long campaigned for the tightening of America’s gun control laws.
Douglas was originally motivated to push for stricter gun control in the wake of rock legend John Lennon’s murder, which outside Lennon’s New York apartment in 1980.
Native New Yorker Douglas explains, “I was there the night John Lennon was shot, three blocks away.”
Douglas says the event “left a lasting impression on me… It motivated me to do whatever I could to lobby for small-arms control.”
4. He and Zeta-Jones briefly separated in 2013
While Douglas and Zeta-Jones have managed to make their marriage last, it hasn’t always been plain sailing for the pair.
In 2013, the couple let it be known that they had decided to live separately for a time.
Zeta-Jones told the press at the time that she and Douglas were taking a break “to evaluate and work on their marriage.”
It was reported that Zeta-Jones had been angered by Douglas’ remarks about his cancer being a result of oral sex.
Happily, the cooling-off period worked out okay, and Douglas and Zeta-Jones reunited in early 2014.
3. He and Danny DeVito used to share an apartment
Douglas has long been a close friend of fellow Hollywood superstar, actor and filmmaker Danny DeVito.
The lifelong pals have been close, in fact, ever since they shared an apartment in the 1960s as young men.
DeVito recalls, “Michael did the laundry,” whilst Douglas remembers “you put a sock on the door” if either of them had female company.
The pair eventually starred together alongside Kathleen Turner in 1984’s Romancing the Stone, a role that propelled Douglas into Hollywood’s A-List after a number of lower profile roles.
Douglas, DeVito and Turner would reunite in 1985 Romancing the Stone sequel The Jewel of the Nile, and the 1989 black comedy The War of the Roses, which DeVito also directed.
2. He celebrated his 70th birthday on the set of Ant-Man
Unlike some long-standing Hollywood veterans (we’re looking at you, Scorsese and Spielberg!), Douglas has proved he can move with the times by working with Marvel Studios.
The actor took the key supporting role of Hank Pym, technical genius and mentor to Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang, in the 2015 superhero movie Ant-Man.
In fact, Douglas was hard at work on the film at the same time that he celebrated his 70th birthday.
To mark the occasion, the Ant-Man cast and crew presented him with a specially made birthday cake.
Not that it sounds like it was the most appetising confection ever, as it took the shape of a reel of film that was crawling with ants.
1. He acted alongside his father, mother and son in the 2003 film It Runs in the Family
With three generations so far having gone into the business, the Douglas family are among the most high-profile acting clans in Hollywood.
Even so, there aren’t many films in which a family is portrayed by three generations of a bona fide family.
This was the case with the 2003 film It Runs in the Family, for which Michael Douglas played producer as well as the lead role of Alex Gromberg.
In the roles of Alex’s parents, Douglas cast his own parents Kirk and Diana, whilst the role of Alex’s college-age son Asher was taken by his real son Cameron Douglas.
The Gromberg family was filled out by two actors without family relation: Bernadette Peters, as Alex’s wife Rebecca, and Rory Culkin as youngest son Eli.