Michael Douglas is primarily regarded as an actor while his work as a producer of films such as ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ is less well known to the public. He was even responsible for helping to bring '70s shocker ‘The Exorcist’ to the screen at a time when most studios had shyed away from producing controversial horror films.
Born to Hollywood action star Kirk Douglas and actress Diana Dill in 1944, Michael attended the prestigious prep school, Choate Rosemary Hall, in Wallingford, Connecticut. One of his fellow students was Glenn Close, who he was later to star with in the sensational 1987 hit ‘Fatal Attraction’.
Douglas became a global household name through '70s TV cop series ‘The Streets of San Francisco’ (1972-76) co-starring film star actor Karl Malden. But it was to be the romantic-adventure-comedy ‘Romancing The Stone’ with actress Kathleen Turner in the mid '80s that acted as the breakthrough movie to catapult him into the superstar league.
After leaving 'Streets' in the mid '70s, Douglas appeared in a string of notable movies such as ‘Coma’ (1978) and ‘The China Syndrome’ (1979) - the latter with Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon. ‘The China Syndrome’ was one of the first films to highlight the dangers of nuclear fall out and somewhat ironically was released just days before the real life events at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania.
Douglas’ success as a producer was marked by the Oscar winning ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1975) which made a star of actress Louise Fletcher, who as the insidious ‘Nurse Ratched’ won an Oscar for her debut performance.
Michael’s father Kirk, had originally bought the movie rights after hoping to play the central role on film. He gave the rights to his son who later decided Kirk to be too old to play the role. Instead the part went to Jack Nicholson who won one of the film’s five Oscars. Only three movies have achieved such a feat. Kirk was said to be extremely angry with Michael for some time for making this decision.
‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ ranked number 20 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 greatest American films and cemented Douglas Jnr’s position as a film producer to be reckoned with.
The rest of the '70s for Douglas were disappointing, particularly as an actor. He appeared in several unmemorable films and less popular fare such as ‘Running’ (1979) a tedious melodrama starring Douglas as an American marathon runner determined to run for his country at the Olympic games.
The actor’s era of superstardom associated with a plethora of high profile, box office hits was to begin in 1984 with ‘Romancing the Stone’ when Douglas had turned 40. He also produced as well as starred in this hugely popular action-fantasy romp set in South America.
The irreverent, tongue-in-cheek adventure yarn appeared on the coattails of the massively successful ‘Indiana Jones’ franchise – even though it had been written years before- but with a far more contemporary and realistic edge to it. It was followed up in 1985 with another box office hit ‘The Jewel of the Nile’. Part of the box-office success was due to the on-screen chemistry between Douglas and Turner, who were to team up years later playing another battling couple in ‘War of the Roses’.
Further hits followed, none more so than 'Wall Street' (1987) where Douglas’ famously callous, corporate raider ‘Gordon Gekko’ summed up the '80s excess and obsession with money. ‘Greed is good’ was one of Gekko’s mantras, which, along with his city attire of pinstripes and braces, became a catchphrase and model for many a wannabe city boy and ‘yuppie’ during the time. The role won Douglas his second Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
1987 continued with the golden streak as Douglas appeared in the year’s 2nd most successful movie, ‘Fatal Attraction’. The movie, co-starring Glenn Close as a disturbed woman who has an affair with Douglas’ married character and sets out on a destructive path, was a commercial hit that had audiences gripping the edge of their seats. Despite its success the movie did not escape criticism. Some critics believed the film to be misogynistic and pandering to right wing moralising about sexual behaviour outside marriage.
Douglas teamed up again with Kathleen Turner in 1989 for the blackly-comic ‘The War of the Roses’. Once again the Oscar winning Douglas was able demonstrate his comedic skills as an irate husband violently battling with his wife (Turner) in a vengeful tale of domestic disharmony. But his second film that year, ‘Black Rain’ (1989) was a very different celluloid affair. Directed by British movie maestro Ridley Scott, this tale of two New York cops fighting with Japanese Yakuza members was an over-stylised and middling success at the box office.
It was going to take three years before Douglas revisited the heady successes of earlier hits. It came in the shape of a glossy, racy and sexually explicit tale featuring femme fatales, murder and revenge in the controversial ‘Basic Instinct’. Catapulting co-star and small bit player Sharon Stone into superstar stratosphere, the steamy movie became notorious for Ms Stone’s apparent lack of underwear in a now much parodied police interrogation scene. Stone later claimed that she was unaware of the position of the camera during the infamous "leg-crossing" scene and that director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop) had "tricked" her into removing her underwear before re-positioning the camera. The film originally received an NC-17 rating in America, mainly due to the sexual acrobatics between Ms Stone and Douglas.
‘Falling Down’ (1993) directed by Joel Schumacher, again appeared to tap into the US’s pre-occupations with social politics, red tape and crime. Douglas’ character, Bill Foster, a stressed out white collar worker, simply wants to get home for his daughter’s birthday but finds everything conspires to stop him. Douglas’ portrayal of this meek pillar of the community turning into a vigilante is both funny and disturbing.
More recently it has been Douglas’ personal life that has put him in the public glare, particularly with his marriage to Welsh actress Catherine Zeta Jones in 2000. Despite the cynical jabs from the press, the couple have appeared as the perfect Hollywood union and have produced two children, son Dylan and daughter Carys, to join the famous Douglas acting clan.
However, the marriage has not been without its controversial moments. A High Court appearance in the UK relating to unauthorised pictures that were taken and published of the couple’s wedding, garnered column inches in the global press. Another legal proceeding, this time centred on thirty-five year old Dawnette Knight, an obsessive fan of Douglas, only ended when Knight was incarcerated for three years.
Compared to the 1980s Michael’s recent film career has had little impact despite commendable performances in small, quirky projects such as ‘The Wonder Boys’ (2000) where he played ‘Professor Grady Tripp’ a novelist, teaching creative writing. The commercial failure of ‘It Runs In The Family’ (2003) starring many of the Douglas clan including Michael and his elderly father Kirk in a family drama, was a disappointment to the award-winning actor. He did not star again in a movie until ‘The Sentinel’ (2006) a thriller set in the White House and co-starring Keifer Sutherland and Kim Basinger.
Douglas starred in 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps' in 2010, earning himself a Golden Globe nomination for his performance as Gordon Gekko. his latest films include 'Last Vegas' (2013) and 'Ant-Man' (2015).
Douglas’ personal life off-screen has been as colourful as many of the racy movie plots he has performed in. Disclosures about his ‘addiction to sex’ in the late 80s culminated in a divorce from first wife Diandra in 2000. His wife of twenty-three years and mother of his first son Cameron, cited her husband’s womanising and absenteeism as grounds for the break-up. Douglas bravely admitted his sexual problems and later sought professional help for his behaviour together with alcohol addiction. He married Catherine Zeta Jones the same year as he divorced Diandra.
Zeta Jones gave birth to the couple's first child together – Dylan Michael – in 2000, with daughter Carys Zeta coming along in 2003. In August 2010 the family announced that Michael Douglas was suffering from throat cancer. The actor made an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman in the US and revealed that the illness was at an advanced stage. Douglas, who was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy at the time, said he had an 80 per cent chance of survival. "The big thing you're worried about is it spreading," he said. "I am head and neck. It hasn't gone down. The expectations are good."
In January 2011, Douglas announced that treatment had been successful and that the tumour had gone. However, the actor will continue to be monitored regularly.