Hollywood acting legend Kirk Douglas has died aged 103.

The Spartacus star died on Wednesday and is survived by his wife of 65 years Anne Buydens and his three sons Michael, Joel, and Eric.

His son Michael Douglas, an acting icon in his own right, revealed the news of his father's death in an emotional statement to People magazine.

Actor Kirk Douglas and son, actor Michael Douglas, in 2001. Photo / Getty Images
Actor Kirk Douglas and son, actor Michael Douglas, in 2001. Photo / Getty Images

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

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"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."

The actor added: "But to me and my brothers Joel and Peter he was simply Dad, to Catherine, a wonderful father-in-law, to his grandchildren and great grandchild their loving grandfather, and to his wife Anne, a wonderful husband."

"Kirk's life was well lived, and he leaves a legacy in film that will endure for generations to come, and a history as a renowned philanthropist who worked to aid the public and bring peace to the planet," Michael added. "Let me end with the words I told him on his last birthday and which will always remain true. Dad - I love you so much and I am so proud to be your son."

Actor Kirk Douglas wears a gladiator's costume in the title role of Spartacus. Photo / Getty Images
Actor Kirk Douglas wears a gladiator's costume in the title role of Spartacus. Photo / Getty Images
Kirk Douglas in 1940. Photo / Getty Images
Kirk Douglas in 1940. Photo / Getty Images

Douglas suffered a stroke back in 1996 but had been in good health since then.

Cameron Douglas, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kirk Douglas attend the ceremony honoring Michael Douglas with star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2018. Photo / Getty Images
Cameron Douglas, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kirk Douglas attend the ceremony honoring Michael Douglas with star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2018. Photo / Getty Images

The famed actor and producer had a total of 92 acting credits and roughly 75 movies under his belt.

Douglas received critical acclaim for his role in the 1960 classic Spartacus.

He was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar in 1959 for Champion and earned two Oscar nominations for producing The Bad and the Beautiful in 1953 and Lust for Life in 1957.

He didn't win from any of those nominations, but he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award in 1975 which he accepted on stage despite having recently suffered a stroke.

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Kirk Douglas and his sons, Joel, Peter, Michael and Eric. Photo / Getty Images
Kirk Douglas and his sons, Joel, Peter, Michael and Eric. Photo / Getty Images

"I see my four sons, they are proud of the old man," Douglas said, as the camera panned to Michael Douglas in the audience who had tears streaming down his face. "I am proud too, proud to be a part of Hollywood for 50 years."

From 'abject poverty' to Hollywood riches

Douglas was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants who rose from an impoverished childhood to become a silver screen legend whose decades-long career included the hit historical drama Spartacus.

One of the last of Hollywood's Golden Age, Douglas' star was launched with his first film in 1946 and he became a huge box office draw, playing the leading man in several movies – from a boxer to Vincent van Gogh – throughout the 1950s and 60s. He starred and acted in more than 60 feature films, found his own production company, and directed two movies.

A well-known Lothario who said he dated beauties such as Marlene Dietrich and Rita Hayworth, Douglas married twice, and admitted in his autobiography that he cheated on both. With his first wife, Diana Dill, they had Michael, a famous actor in his own right, and Joel. After divorcing her in 1951, he married Anne Buydens three years later, and together they had two sons as well, Peter and Eric.

Douglas faced poverty and anti-Semitism during his ascent into Hollywood royalty, his business manager stealing from him, had brushes with death that included a plane crash, and survived a stroke and the tragedy of losing his youngest son, Eric, who died from a drug overdose at age 46 in 2004. His grandson, Cameron – Michael Douglas' son – also struggled with drugs and served a seven-year sentence for charges that included heroin possession.

But challenges and loss did not deter Douglas from writing several books, travelling to other countries as a goodwill ambassador for the United States, hobnobbing with the glitterati like Frank Sinatra, the Kennedys and the Reagans, and donating millions of dollars for his philanthropic endeavours with his wife of 65 years, Anne.

He was born Issur Danielovitch on December 9, 1916 in Amsterdam, New York, the fourth child and only son for his mother, Bryna, and his father, Herschel 'Harry' Danielovitch. Douglas' father had immigrated to America in 1910 from Russia to escape the pogroms as well as military service. Under the tsar, Jewish men were drafted to serve in the army for 25 years and "pressured to convert to Christianity", Douglas explained in his 2007 book, Let's Face It: 90 years of Living, Loving, and Learning.

Since the local factories refused to hire Jews, his father collected rags, scrap metal and junk. (This was why Douglas titled his 1988 autobiography, The Ragman's Son.) While his mother, who took care of seven children and was always working, Douglas wrote that his Pa "was no help. Almost all his daily take was spent at his favourite bar, Bogie's. He rarely came home for dinner. He never seemed to care whether we had food on the table or went to bed hungry".

"We lived in abject poverty."

When he was enrolled in school, his name was Isadore 'Izzy' Demsky, a name he wrote that he always hated. Before he entered kindergarten, he only spoke Yiddish but quickly learned English – and the perks of performing.

"When I recited a poem about the red robin of spring, everyone clapped. I took my first bow before an audience. I loved it," he recalled. "By second grade I was a seasoned pro, milking my title role of the shoemaker in The Shoemaker and the Elves."

By the time he had his bar mitzvah, he was already delivering papers and saving money for college, which one of his teachers encouraged him to attend. He wrote that his first sexual experience was with this high school teacher when he was 15-years-old.

"She was an important influence in my life and I am eternally grateful. By today's standards she would have gone to jail. I had no idea we were doing something wrong. Did she?"

Douglas had been saving money for college, but handed it over to his father when he asked for it. After he graduated from high school in 1934, he worked for a year in a department store to rebuild his savings. With $164, he hitchhiked to St Lawrence University, and somehow convinced the dean to let him attend. At St Lawrence, Douglas described himself as the "big man on campus" who was the "undefeated star of the varsity wrestling team".

Douglas recalled in his book how he became "fixated" with becoming an actor. He spent his summers during college at a small playhouse in the Adirondacks, working as a stagehand and acting in a few small parts. His fellow actor, Karl Malden, who was born Mladen Sekulovich, convinced him to change his name.

In 1939, as World War II began, Issur Danielovitch who became Isadore Demsky became Kirk Douglas. It was also the year that Douglas graduated from St Lawrence, which is northern New York, and he then went to the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.

At the academy, Douglas wrote that he "made some lasting friendships there. One was Betty Bacall, a stunning seventeen-year-old who had a crush on me. Another was Diana Dill, who was always telling Betty to forget about me."

Diana Dill and Douglas married on November 2, 1943 after he joined the US Navy, and he was a communications officer.

"We become swept up in the romance of wartime and the fear that I might die in combat," he wrote. "I looked great in my dress uniform, but nothing else about my service was distinguished."

Together the couple had two sons: Michael, who was born on September 25, 1944, and Joel, who was born on January 23, 1947.

Douglas was honourably discharged from the navy in 1944, but before he headed back to New York City, he met with Betty – now known as Lauren Bacall – for dinner in Los Angeles. Bacall was filming To Have and Have Not with Humphrey Bogart. (Bacall and Bogart got married in 1945 and stayed together until his death in 1957.) Douglas visited the set and while impressed, "doing live theatre was still" his goal, he wrote in the 2017 book, Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter and a Lifetime in Hollywood.

Back in New York, Douglas wrote that he had "good roles in a lot of bad plays". Bacall urged a producer to see him perform, and Douglas landed his first movie role in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, in which he played Walter, the unassuming husband of Martha, who was played by Barbara Stanwyck. The film was released in October 1944 and Douglas was on his way to becoming a movie star.

Douglas had a few more roles but it was when he opted to play the boxer Midge Kelly in 1949's Champion that his career really took off.

"I got an Oscar nomination and became a star. I couldn't resist playing a role that reflected so much of my life," he wrote. "The announcer at ringside, looking at me, says, 'From the depths of poverty he became champion of the world!'"

Diana and Douglas divorced "amicably", in February 1951, and he wrote that "she and I realised that we were not right for each other". While Diana and their two sons, Michael and Joel, moved back to live in New York, Douglas stayed in California.

He played a jazz musician 1950's Young Man with a Horn, which also starred his drama academy friend, Lauren Bacall, and Doris Day. In 1951's Ace in a Hole, he was an ambitious reporter looking to get his job back after a fall from grace, and in the next year's The Bad and the Beautiful, he played a film producer looking to cast Lana Turner's character in his next project. He earned his second Oscar nomination for that role.

"I worked and played hard and enjoyed liaisons with some of the golden age's brightest stars, among them Marlene Dietrich and Gene Tierney," he wrote in his book, Kirk and Anne.

In 1953, while filming an Act of Love in Paris, Douglas met his future wife, Anne Buydens. Born Hannelore Marx on April 13, 1919 in Germany, Anne was from an upper class family and she was well-traveled and spoke several languages. She lived in Paris during the Nazi's occupation of the city, working for a film company writing subtitles in German. After the war, she was working as the personal assistant to director John Huston, Anne wrote in the 2017 book Kirk and Anne, which she co-authored with Douglas and Marcia Newberger.

Anne met Douglas for what she called a courtesy interview as he was looking for someone to handle his publicity. Douglas, already a star, had "gotten quite a reputation in his first few weeks in town. The press had dubbed him Le Brute Cheri, the darling brute, and he was photographed with a succession of stunning women", she wrote.

He offered her the job but she turned him down, and then doubled his consternation by also declining his dinner invitation.

"She finally agreed to work with me on a trial basis, making it clear our relationship was strictly business," he wrote. "With no romance in the picture, I stopped trying to impress Anne."

Instead, they talked. "I was fascinated by Anne and more than a little in love with her," he wrote.

However, Douglas was in a relationship Pier Angeli. The pair had starred together in 1953's The Story of Three Loves. They eventually got engaged despite his relationship with Anne. But, Douglas wrote, when he saw Angeli on New Year's Eve, he "fell out of love with her" and broke off the engagement.

It took some time, but Douglas finally realised he wanted to marry Anne, and they tied the knot in Las Vegas on May 29, 1954. They had two sons together, Peter, on November 23, 1955, and Eric on June 21, 1958.

In his autobiography, Douglas disclosed that he cheated on both wives.

"I'm a sonofabitch, plain and simple," he wrote in The Ragman's Son, his 1988 autobiography.

Anne knew about the affairs and wrote: "One of the things I love most about Kirk is his inability to keep secrets… Let me explain my attitude concerning this. As a European, I understood it was unrealistic to expect total fidelity in a marriage."

Douglas married Anne in May 1954, and later that year, he starred in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The Disney film was a smash with critics and at the box office. By the next year, he was determined to start his own production company, and established one, naming it after his mother, Bryna.

"In choosing my first project for Bryna, I once again followed my instincts," he wrote.

He cast his ex-wife, Diana, and together they filmed The Indian Fighter, which was released in late 1955. His next challenge was to play the tortured artist Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life. The film, which was released in 1956, earned Douglas his third Oscar nomination, but he lost that year to Yul Brynner.

"Lust for Life took a toll on my psyche," he wrote, noting that he was the same age - 37 - as van Gogh when he died by suicide.

As a prominent actor in Hollywood, Douglas was caught up in what was called the "Red Scare", the paranoia regarding Communists in the United States during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The House's Un-American Activities Committee, formed in 1938, made Hollywood one of its targets.

MGM asked him to sign a "loyalty oath. I objected vehemently to the practice. The studios required it, not because they questioned our loyalty but in order to appease the House Un-American Activities Committee. I had to sign if I wanted to play Vincent," he wrote.

After Lust for Life, Douglas worked with the young filmmaker Stanley Kubrick on Paths of Glory.

He wrote: "This would be my first of two experiences with Stanley Kubrick, whom I have described over the years as 'a talented s***'. ... Stanley had adapted a 1935 novel about corruption and greed in the high command of France during World War I into a brilliant screenplay."

Produced by Douglas' production company, Bryna, Paths of Glory was released in 1957, and while it did not do well at the box office, it was later considered a classic. Douglas and Kubrick had a three-picture deal, but after working together, Douglas released him from the agreement, writing: "It amused me years later when Stanley told people I was only an employee on the movie. I have a healthy ego, but his was gigantic."

Nonetheless, when the first director for the historical epic Spartacus did not work out, Douglas turned again to Kubrick to direct.

The stakes for that picture were high for Douglas and his family. Anne commissioned Price Waterhouse to examine Douglas' books and discovered that the movie star had no money in the bank and he owed the Internal Revenue Service $750,000, (over $6.6 million in today's money.) Sam Norton, whom Douglas described as his "best friend, lawyer, and business manager", had power of attorney.

"I made some twenty-seven pictures with Sam in charge of my income. He became a wealthy man. I was broke and in debt," he wrote.

After getting out of his contract with Norton, profits from 1958's The Vikings were used to pay off the IRS, with Anne noting, "Our fortune now depended on Spartacus".

Not only did Anne save the family's finances, but that March, she saved Douglas' life. Douglas was good friends with Mike Todd, a producer who was then married to Elizabeth Taylor. Todd invited Douglas to fly with him on a private plane to New York, but Anne was upset about this and after they fought, he did not go. The plane crashed and Mike Todd died on March 22, 1958 at age 48.

Douglas had other near death brushes, including a helicopter crash with a plane that he survived in 1991, having a pacemaker put in, and a stroke in 1996.

"I feel that every brush I had with death changed me and made me a better person. I began to think less about myself and more about other people. If I survive a couple more near-death experiences, I might become a very good guy," he wrote.

Spartacus was originally budgeted at $4 million but ended up costing $12 million, and for a time, it was the most expensive film ever made.

Filming started in early 1959 and the production was not smooth sailing. Douglas had to fire the first director, Anthony Mann, and then got Stanley Kubrick to direct by offering him $150,000, according to the book, Kirk and Anne. Douglas played the title role of Spartacus, a slave that rebels against the Romans in the First Century BC.

Anne wrote that Douglas was worried and "constantly putting out fires as well as performing the most dangerous stunts of his career".

Douglas and Kubrick clashed as the director "continued to squander money on retakes and experimental shots".

The film, which was released in 1960, was a huge success, and Douglas and his family were back on solid financial footing.

"I lived with Spartacus for some three years, and it is still the film most associated with me," Douglas wrote.

The family socialised with the Hollywood and Washington elite, such as Frank Sinatra, whom Douglas wrote "were the kind of friends who would always go the extra mile for each other", and Henry Kissinger, Jack Valenti, some of the Kennedys and the Reagans. Douglas' son Eric attended school with Ron Jr, and Nancy Reagan and Anne shared carpool duties and "manned the hot dog booth together at annual school fairs", according to the book, Kirk and Anne.

He noted that it was President John F Kennedy who suggested Douglas visit foreign countries as a goodwill ambassador, and the role formalised under Lyndon B Johnson's administration. Anne and Douglas traveled over 40 countries over the next decades, and President Jimmy Carter awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work, according to the book.

Douglas also made some Westerns, including 1957's Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and 1967's The War Wagon, which also starred John Wayne. By the 1970s, he tried his hand at directing with Scalawag, which was released in 1973, and 1975's Posse. He continued to act in TV movies, films and plays until 2009.

He found success with writing as well, and authored and co-authored 12 books, including My Stroke of Luck, which was published in 2002 and delved into how he recovered from a stroke in 1996 that affected his ability to talk. That year he was to receive an honorary Oscar for his work, and he recalled how he was going to ask Michael to accept on his behalf.

He wrote: "The shortest speech I ever gave was the one at the 1996 Oscars… I learned to say two words, 'thank you', pretty clearly. I could handle two syllables. But I wasn't satisfied."

Working with a speech therapist, he was able to say a little bit more, dedicating the award to Anne.

For decades, Anne and Douglas worked together on their philanthropic endeavors with the Douglas Foundation, which he formed in 1964, donating about $118 million, according to Town & Country. They have helped to renovate playgrounds and the homeless in Los Angeles.

Douglas recalled how his mother, Bryna, found a way to give people who came to their door some "morsel of food for them. I didn't understand. I knew how little we had, and how often my stomach would growl in protest. Ma patiently explained: 'Even a beggar must give to a person who has less.'"

- Daily Mail