Kirk Douglas was one of the most legendary actors of the 20th century. The New York native came from a rough background, but even though others wanted to push him down, he never caved and pursued his career in his own way.

Douglas passed away in February 2020, at age 103, but his legacy will live forever. At the same time, as he became a well-respected actor, working alongside some of the greatest, he also created a lovely family, raising children and giving back to the ones that always had helped him.

When Kirk Douglas passed away, he had made himself a fortune. However, his children – including actor Michael Douglas – reportedly didn’t receive one single dollar. Why? Here is all you need to know about the legendary Kirk Douglas!
Kirk Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch on December 9, 1916, in Amsterdam, New York. Later, he would change his name to Kirk Douglas because he thought it would be good for his acting career.

Kirk Douglas – tough childhood

The only son in a large family of seven children, his parents were Russian Jewish immigrants, and Douglas’s childhood was challenging. He described his family as the poorest family on “a street of poor families” and slept on a “shabby living-room sofa” in an unheated clapboard house.

Kirk Douglas’ father, Hershel, was prohibited from working at the local mills because he was Jewish, and instead, he became a junk dealer.

“Even on Eagle Street, in the poorest section of town, where all the families were struggling, the ragman was on the lowest rung on the ladder,” Mr. Douglas wrote in his best-selling autobiography. “And I was the ragman’s son.”

Sometimes, the family didn’t even have food, making Douglas steal food from his neighbors or even produce stands.

As he described in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, growing up in Amsterdam, New York meant “living in the East End, the opposite side of town from the rich people on Market Hill. It meant living at 46 Eagle Street, a run-down, two-story, gray clapboard house, the last house at the bottom of a sloping street, next to the factories, the railroad tracks, and the Mohawk River.”

Kirk Douglas’ was often teased because he was Jewish and even attacked by local gangs. Still, it didn’t break Douglas one bit, who instead worked hard to help his family and earn himself a better life.

Found his passion for drama in high school

He estimated he had around 40 different jobs – from newspaper boy to dishwasher.

“I also was a hard worker. I’d invent jobs, like selling soda and candy to workers at the mill at the end of our street. Amsterdam was one of the largest mill towns in the country. There were dozens of factories but no jobs for Jews.”

Kirk Douglas attended the Wilbur Lynch High School – now Amsterdam High School – where he first became interested in drama. He was encouraged by his English teacher Louise Livingston, participated in various kinds of drama activities, and was introduced to the world of poetry.

“I would have been run out of town if I had ever admitted to liking poetry or said out loud, ‘I want to be a great actor.’ Because of her, I sent away for college and drama school catalogs and saved every penny so I could get there,” Douglas reminisced.

“Mrs. Livingston was cool and detached when she walked into the classroom. She never raised her well-modulated voice. Emotion crept in only when she read poetry. She thought I was wonderful. She encouraged me and kept me after school. What a sparkle came into her eyes as she read poem after poem with me sitting by her side.”

Even though Kirk Douglas tried saving every penny for college, the money wasn’t enough for his tuition. So he decided to take a leap of faith and hitchhiked 200 miles to St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York.

Kirk Douglas – Broadway debut in 1941

With him, Douglas brought all his high school awards, transcripts, poems, and a recommendation letter from his teacher, Mrs. Livingston. He got a meeting with the head of the faculty – and convinced him to get a scholarship.

Kirk spent his summers working as an actor at the Tamarack Playhouse on Lake Pleasant. And it was there he changed his name to Kirk Douglas.

¨ “One day, a few of my friends insisted I needed a more American name. Someone suggested Douglas,” he recalled. “My new first name took longer. Someone finally said, Kirk. My new name sounded masculine and strong.”

Douglas perfected his craft as an actor, and in 1941, he earned his first Broadway role in the musical Spring Again. He continued to get more roles on Broadway, but before his big breakthrough, world events changed everything.

World War II arrived, and Kirk Douglas decided to sign up right away. He said he felt “a wave of patriotism and a wave of Jewishness” and decided to enlist as an Army pilot, but ended up working as a communication officer on a submarine.

However, in 1943, an accident on one of the submarines left Kirk Douglas hospitalized with injuries. After being diagnosed with amoebic dysentery, he was discharged from the Navy as a junior grade lieutenant