Born: 29 September 1944
Where: New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA
Awards: Won 2 Oscars and 1 Golden Globe
Height: 5′ 10"
As an actor and producer, Michael Douglas has been involved in the generation of more box-office dollars than most of Hollywood’s current big-shots. He takes a fair amount home with him too, having been paid $14 million for Basic Instinct, $20 million for The Game, another $20 million for A Perfect Murder, and $10 million for Stephen Soderbergh’s Traffic. But to judge Douglas on his outrageous earning-power would be to do him a major disservice. He is, after all, one of the edgiest, funniest and most courageous actors of his generation.
Born on September 25th, 1944, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Michael was, famously, the child of superstar Kirk Douglas. His parents were divorced when he was small, and he was raised by his mother, Diana Dill, and her new husband, in the East, far from Hollywood (he has one brother, Joel, and two half-brothers, Peter and Eric). Attending various prep schools (including Eaglebrook School in Deerfield, MA), he subsequently decided against the prestigious Yale in favour of the University of California, in Santa Barbara (a beautiful place where he still has a home). Yet, despite his distance from his natural father, the film industry intrigued him, drew him in, and after graduating as a Bachelor Of Arts in 1968, he scored some minor roles in even more minor movies, before rising to prominence as Karl Malden’s maverick sidekick in the longrunning TV cop show The Streets Of San Francisco.
His first brush with massive success though came offscreen rather than on. His father had for some time owned the rights to Ken Kesey’s humorous and harrowing One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, indeed he’d earlier starred in a stage version, but Michael somehow managed to persuade Kirk to let HIM try to get the film into production. After some years of effort, he finally pulled it off and, thanks to Milos Forman’s sharp direction and Jack Nicholson’s magnificent performance as McMurphy (a role many think he’s still playing to this day), the resulting masterpiece snapped up five Oscars — one of which, for Best Picture, was presented to Michael. The film also featured Danny DeVito, for years a close friend of Michael’s, who’d later play alongside him in The Jewel Of The Nile and direct him in The War Of The Roses.
The next movie he produced, 1979’s The China Syndrome would prove to have a huge effect on Michael’s later career. An excellent eco-thriller, concerning a nuclear accident, it coincided with the notorious "mistake" at Three Mile Island and consequently captured the public’s imagination. Douglas would court such controversy and such currency over and over again — with the likes of The Star Chamber, Wall Street, Disclosure, Falling Down and Fatal Attraction, he’d constantly be digging into the most inflammatory of contemporary subject matters — rape, adultery, bisexuality, anti-social capitalism etc.
As an actor, though he did prove his all-round performing abilities in Richard Attenborough’s disastrous A Chorus Line, Douglas spent most of the late Seventies and early Eighties in frenetic action pix, like Romancing The Stone, or twisted conspiracy thrillers like Coma and The Star Chamber. Then, in 1987, came Fatal Attraction and his career sky-rocketed. The reason was that the complex Douglas (a happily married sex symbol, a bigtime producer who sometimes acted, a an undeniable star still in his father’s shadow) was absolutely perfect for the major roles coming his way. He was truly convincing as both a passionate cheat and a loving husband in Fatal Attraction, then as the "fair" but ferocious Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (for which he won another Oscar). Again he was great as a good cop led astray by desire in Basic Instinct, and really should have received another Oscar for Falling Down, where he was ludicrously good as a seemingly mild-mannered man, gradually revealed to be wholly disturbed. A troubled yet decent man, Douglas was always at his best when playing flawed characters in morally testing circumstances. Nowadays, he has another arrow in his acting quiver, namely an onscreen authority, an inherent, controlled strength that allows him to play men of political power — thus The American President and Traffic wherein he appears as the US anti-drug tsar.
Michael Douglas has been married twice. First to Diandra Luker, from whom he was divorced in 2000 after 23 years (she bore him a son, Cameron Morrell Douglas, in 1978). Then, to the delight of the tabloids, he wed Welsh actress Catherine Zeta Jones, who’d already given him a second son, Dylan Michael. He’d met Catherine at the Deauville Film Festival in France, in the summer of 1998. They got engaged in Aspen, Colorado on New Year’s Eve, 1999. As well as busying himself as star and producer in Hollywood, Michael has also been named a Messenger Of Peace by the United Nations, his job being to use his position and influence to battle for human rights across the globe. More specifically, and as befits the producer and star of The China Syndrome, he must work towards total nuclear disarmament.
Though he’ll never now reach the heroic cinematic stature of his father (they just don’t make films like Spartacus any more), he is possessed of the kind of confused and often venomous emotion his dad exhibited in Lust For Life and The Vikings. In fact, he’s an updated version — smoother, smarter, but equally imperfect, ideal for these weird times. Still one of the biggest stars of them all.