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Medical Examiner: Overdose Killed Douglas
August 10, 2004

The death of the youngest son of Oscar-winning actor Kirk Douglas was caused by an accidental overdose of alcohol and prescription pills, authorities said Monday. Death is often the outcome for anyone addicted to pills.

Eric Douglas' death last month was due to "acute intoxication" from alcohol and prescription tranquilizers and pain killers, said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office.

Douglas, 46, was found dead inside a Manhattan apartment building July 6. There were no signs of foul play, police said.

A spokesman for the Douglas family declined to comment Monday on the medical examiner's findings.

Douglas was an aspiring actor and comedian but never found the success of his father or his Academy Award-winning sibling, Michael Douglas.

He had a short-lived acting career in the 1980s and early 1990s, playing supporting roles in movies such as "Delta Force 3: The Killing Game." He also appeared in an episode of the HBO program "Tales From the Crypt" opposite his father, who earned an Emmy nomination for his role on the show.

In recent years, he drew attention more for his problems than performances, struggling with drug and alcohol addictions while repeatedly clashing with the law. He spent time behind bars and in rehabilitation clinics.

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Kirk Douglas Theater Bows with Six Preems
July 26, 2004

Six world premieres will be mounted in the inaugural season at the Kirk Douglas Theater, the midsize venue in Culver City overseen by Gordon Davidson and the Center Theater Group. Five of the six playwrights represented are from the Los Angeles area.

The world premiere of Charles L. Mee's comedy "A Perfect Wedding," commissioned by the Mark Taper Forum and developed at the Taper's 2003 New Work Festival, opens Nov. 7 and runs through Nov. 28. Mee, a historian and playwright from Brooklyn, is the one out-of-towner.

Up second is "The Paris Letter" by Jon Robin Baitz, whose "Mizlansky/Zilinsky" played at the Geffen and "Ten Unknowns" was mounted at the Mark Taper Forum. Play, which addresses the costs of denial on family, friendship, love and marriage, runs Dec. 12-Jan. 2. It was part of the reading series at the Ojai Playwrights Conference in 2002.

Told in a collage of text, image, movement and music, Nancy Keystone's "Apollo -- Part 1: Lebensraum" runs April 10-May 1. "Lebensraum" follows Wernher von Braun and Arthur Rudolph, the darlings of Nazi Germany's rocket program, as they are brought to America to become American rocketeers. "Apollo" was developed this year at the Taper's new play development programs, First Step and Next Step.

Chay Yew's "A Distant Shore" concerns two families inextricably entwined with the fate of a small Southeast Asian country during the 1920s. Play opens May 22 and closes June 12. Yew is the director of the Taper's Asian Theater Workshop, and "A Distant Shore" was developed at the Taper's 2002 New Work Festival under the title "Malaya."

"This is work that reflects who we are as a nation, what our similarities are, what our debates are about and what is in the hearts and minds of our artists," Davidson said. "It also acknowledges the changing global horizons that are part of 21st century life." Davidson is in his final year programming the Taper and the Ahmanson theaters for CTG.

A subscription bonus option includes two new plays created for young audiences, "Flight," by Charlayne Woodard, and "The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip," by Doug Cooney and David O.

"Flight," the story of a slave community and a young boy whose mother has been sold by plantation owners, was commissioned by CTG's PLAY (Performing for Los Angeles Youth) and developed during several readings in 2003 and 2004. The musical "Frip," based on George Saunders' story, was also commissioned by P.L.A.Y.

Charter subscription prices to the premiere season at the 300-seat Kirk Douglas Theater range from $56 to $168.

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Kirk Douglas' Youngest Son Found Dead
July 6, 2004

Oscar-winning actor Kirk Douglas' youngest son, who battled drug and alcohol problems for years, was found dead Tuesday inside an apartment building, police said.

Eric Douglas, 46, was discovered after someone flagged down a passing police car. There were no signs of foul play, police said. An autopsy was planned.

Eric Douglas was an aspiring actor and comedian, but he never found the success of his father or of his Academy Award-winning sibling, Michael Douglas. He had a short-lived acting career in the 1980s and early '90s, playing supporting roles in movies such as "Delta Force 3: The Killing Game."

He also appeared in an episode of the HBO program "Tales From the Crypt" opposite his father, who earned an Emmy nomination for his role on the show.

In recent years, the youngest of Kirk Douglas' four sons drew attention more for his problems than for any performances. In a 2000 interview, he said he spent eight days in a coma after a pill overdose a year earlier.

For years before that, Eric Douglas struggled with drug and alcohol addictions while repeatedly clashing with the law. He spent time behind bars and in rehabilitation clinics.

In 1997, he pleaded guilty to cocaine possession after his arrest for accepting a shipment of more than 1,000 anti-depressant pills.

A year earlier, he spent the night in jail after smashing his rental car into two vehicles in an alleged drunken-driving incident.

In 1996, Eric Douglas spent a month in jail after a flight from Los Angeles to Newark, N.J., in which he allowed his dog to roam the airplane while he became "loud and verbally abusive" toward the crew, authorities said.

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Kirk Douglas' Youngest Son Found Dead in NY at 46
July 6, 2004

Eric Douglas, 46, who was the youngest son of actor Kirk Douglas and who struggled with longtime drug and alcohol abuse, was found dead on Tuesday in a New York apartment, police said.

The body of the sometime actor and stand-up comic, who had numerous brushes with the law, was discovered by a maid who had come to clean the Manhattan apartment where he was staying, police said.

There were no signs of foul play, and the city medical examiner was planning an autopsy to determine the cause of death, police said.

Douglas was found lying on the floor next to a sofa in the living room of the one-bedroom apartment on East 29th Street, police said.

Douglas, who also was the half-brother of actor Michael Douglas, appeared in a smattering of television shows and movies such as "Delta Force 3" but was best known for his headline-making skirmishes with the law.

He once was arrested after a tussle with an airline crew on a flight to Newark, New Jersey, from Los Angeles, when he let his dog out of its carrier and threw blankets at flight attendants.

He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor drug charge after being arrested signing for a package of crack and anti-depressants from an undercover police officer dressed as a delivery man.

There was no comment from members of the Douglas family except for a brief statement issued by their spokesman: "The family is very shocked and saddened by this event. We hope you will respect their privacy at this time."

Discussing his battles with drugs and alcohol, Douglas, who also attended rehab programs, once told New York's Daily News he found it difficult being part of such a well-known family.

"The pressures of being the youngest son in a famous family sometimes got to me," he said. "I used to feel I had to compare myself to them."

Douglas once disclosed that his speech and gait had been affected by a eight-day accidental drug-related coma in 1999.

Last year, he was tossed out of a North Carolina hotel after hotel managers found him drunk in a room filled with trash. He told police he was working as a stand-up comedian and participating in a weight-reduction program.

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The Family Plot
June 19, 2003

In a new film, Michael, Kirk and Cameron Douglas play members of a warring dynasty. They do it well, and why not? Their whole lives have been a rehearsal, writes Phillip McCarthy.

Let's think about this for a minute. You're casting a Hollywood movie. Characters include a patriarch and his seemingly midlife-crisis-prone son who has inherited the family business but still can't quite win the old man's approval. The son's eldest son is a DJ in New York clubland and small-time drug dealer who runs into a spot of legal bother over his marijuana crop. Who you gonna call?

"You know, the director has the final say on casting, even when a family is involved," says Michael Douglas, who plays father Kirk's screen son in the soon-to-be-released It Runs In The Family, a fresh variation on the blur between real lives and reel lives. "Fred Schepisi probably thought I was done when I had convinced him to accept three generations of Douglases. But after he agreed to let Cameron play my son, there was the question of Kirk's wife, and I said, 'Well, Fred, you gotta meet my mum.' He probably thought he had heard everything."

Hardly. The Douglas family tree, in three generations, has produced enough branches through divorce and remarriage (and the headlines that go with them) to keep a small pulp mill running. But when Michael Douglas pours on his Gordon Gekko-style charm - the unforgettable Gekko was his magnetic, smarmy financier in 1987's Wall Street for which he won one of his two Oscars - who could possibly resist?

"All families have their points of friction, their dysfunctions, and we're certainly not different from anyone else," says Michael, who produced the film (and got his mum, Diana, the gig, incidentally). "It's just that ours attracts a lot more attention than everyone else's. But that's not why we did the picture. It's mainly that my father and I have wanted to make a picture together for years. But he's 86 and has had a stroke and we both realised that time was running out. The rest of it, well, it just took on a life of its own."

The Douglases - screen legend Kirk, consummate Hollywood all-rounder Michael, the still glamorous Diana and neophyte Cameron - and veteran Australian director Schepisi have gathered in a Los Angeles hotel to talk to reporters about their tailor-made tableau of art imitating life.

In 1950, actor-producer Michael was six when Kirk - a leading man for more than five decades who has played everyone from Spartacus to Van Gogh - was divorced from Diana, his first wife.

The resulting father-son bonding time was, as both attest, not very good. For his part, Michael stayed married to his first wife, Diandra, for more than 20 years, but he readily admits to spending more time on his roles as actor, producer and player than as a spouse, father and nurturer.

An amateur Freudian could speculate that Michael's first son, Cameron, now 24, might have come out of all that history sufficiently disillusioned to turn his back on the family trade for quite a while. And until recently his name was usually preceded by the adjective "troubled" as he pursued a livelihood spinning records at New York nightclubs and was also charged with cocaine possession in 1999 (the charge was dismissed after he pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct charge).

"You think long and hard about taking on a project like this because, while the family connection obviously adds another layer of texture to the piece, it comes with a lot of potential baggage, too," says Schepisi, whom Michael Douglas lined up to bring some outside perspective. (Schepisi has a record of films that play off family dynamics, such as Six Degrees Of Separation and the recent Last Orders.) "In the end, there are some parallels, but the actors are not these characters. I mean, actors pull on their own experiences, the sense-memory thing. And, wow, in this case all the research has been done over a lifetime or two."

In It Runs In The Family (to be released in Australia in August), the business is law, not movies. But given that Michael's current wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, won an Oscar for Chicago, a musical that suggests a courtroom is just another stage for some reality-based showbiz razzle-dazzle, the context even blurs that difference.

And that's not all. Faced with his own mortality, Kirk's character, Mitchell Gromberg, has recently re-connected with his Jewish roots. One of the film's pivotal scenes happens at a Passover dinner. And in real life also Kirk has rediscovered his Judaic heritage. His parents were illiterate Russian peasants - straight out of Fiddler On The Roof, he says - who came to America to escape poverty and anti-Semitism.

Yet for the Douglases the idea of merchandising their privacy, often for a hefty price tag, has become as much a part of the DNA as the cleft chin. Kirk's 1996 stroke, with its resultant speech impediment, has been worked into his career as an added layer of gritty determination befitting the characters he plays.

And Michael and Catherine almost seem to have a business plan ready whenever a milestone in their personal life approaches: a reported $US1 million ($1.5 million) for firstborn Dylan's baby photos, $US2 million for wedding snaps to defray the costs of their wedding at New York's Plaza Hotel in November 2000.

Their successful, high-profile legal wrangle with the UK's Hello! magazine over unauthorised pictures was probably less about privacy invasion than copyright infringement. Gordon Gekko would love the couple's panache.

Diana, Michael's mother and Kirk's ex-wife, plays Evelyn Gromberg, Michael's on-screen mother and Kirk's still-devoted wife whose role, as it might once have been in real life, is the peacemaker. (Last year she wed widower Donald Webster, her third husband, but appears as Diana Douglas in the Family cast.) The bit about the DJ son (Cameron Douglas) and his substance-abuse problems was, everyone swears, in the original script, written before it became about Douglas family values. The part about Kirk's character being a stroke survivor was added to give context to his speech impediment.

Schepisi wanted to spend time with Kirk to make sure he was up to an arduous shoot and also to see whether speech therapy for his stroke-diminished voice had restored sufficient clarity to make it soundtrack quality. Having assured himself on both counts, the next challenge was Cameron. Would an intensive round of acting coaching bring him up to scratch, dramatically, so he could share the screen with "two of the most polished actors in the business"?

"You've got a family working together, you've got a guy who's had a stroke and is now 86, you've got a kid who's never done it before, and the other main actor is the producer as well," Schepisi says. "If it was an Olympic event, you would get an immediate 10 points for the degree of difficulty. But it was a chance to make history. Because, really, how often do you get a chance to work with three generations of a really famous family. If you do it right, then it's really something."

Bermuda-born Diana, 80, was a young starlet when she met Kirk in 1942 just before he interrupted his career to ship off to war. They married in 1943 and she has remarried twice since then. But she and Kirk remain close and, with her current husband and his current wife, socialise like old friends. "The four of us often have dinner because we all live in Los Angeles," she says. "We're better as friends than we were as spouses.

"I didn't do this for any sort of catharsis. It was all so long ago. So, no, it wasn't like getting closure or anything like that. I know it would sound more dramatic. I liked the idea of appearing in a movie with my family. I mostly brought up Michael, and I spent a lot of time raising Cameron."

Are the Douglases trying to reveal something about themselves as well as elucidating their characters? To have an audience trying to decipher the codes here is quite a selling point, which two old producers such as Michael and Kirk doubtless savoured. (Michael's brother, Joel, also worked on It Runs In The Family as a producer.) The film, after all, hits another redemptive note above and beyond them finally working together: the third generation is going into the family business.

"It's true that I steered clear of acting on purpose," Cameron explains. "It was something I wasn't comfortable even thinking about. I was interested in music and that was how I made my money. But I had dabbled in acting once or twice and I realised I had this curiosity about it. So when my dad mentioned this film to me, it seemed like the right time to take it seriously, studying with a coach, and you can't do that if you're working in a club in the middle of the night."

It Runs In The Family, which opened in the US in April, does have a couple of non-Douglases in the cast, such as Broadway star Bernadette Peters as Michael's wife and Rory Culkin as his younger son.

In one way, it's the movie that Kirk and Michael have been waiting 27 years to make. The film that was supposed to kick off their collaboration, but didn't, has become one of Hollywood's most admired movies. The year was 1975 and Michael, in a fairly impressive debut as a producer, got the green light for Milos Forman to bring One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest to the screen. He and Kirk had been trying to make the film since Kirk acquired the rights to the Ken Kesey novel. Kirk had played the protagonist, Randle Patrick McMurphy, in a stage adaptation of the piece.

But by the time the project was finally a go, Kirk was too old. The part went to Jack Nicholson. Just about everyone in it won an Oscar that year: it collected five, including Best Picture, which Michael, as one of the producers, got to accept, and Best Actor for Nicholson. Kirk didn't get an Oscar until the Academy gave him an honorary one the year of his stroke, 1996.

In his career as an author (he's written half-a-dozen books including his autobiography, The Ragman's Son), the man who was the Thracian revolutionary Spartacus has done a children's book on biblical heroes. Perhaps it's inevitable for an actor of his age, but Kirk seems to be saddled with retrospective stories. He went from It Runs In The Family to The Illusion, in which he plays another once-powerful, now-ailing father trying to reconnect with his estranged son. Probably like any public figure, an actor no less than a politician, the stroke and a near-fatal helicopter crash five years before made Kirk think about his legacy.

"That's the worst thing about a stroke," says Kirk. "In my case, what is an actor who can't talk? He waits for silent pictures to come back? I mean, you get so depressed. I had suicidal impulses. I wrote about them in my book My Stroke Of Luck. I'm lucky, I'm really lucky. I think my speech is much better now than when I first had my stroke, but I don't think I will ever be cured completely. I don't write because I had a stroke. I write because I want to express something."

Indeed he did and despite the upbeat title, he recalls in that book, that at one point - in late 1996, when his body seemed to him like it belonged to someone older and frailer - he felt so despondent that he loaded a gun and put the trigger in his mouth. But the gun barrel hit a tooth, he realised that he didn't like pain and he had second thoughts about the whole venture. Now, the hard-charging Kirk says he has mellowed. And Michael agrees: "He had much less patience before, a hot temper ... it's a whole new chapter, really, that I see."

And with a family that has had its run-ins with addiction - including Cameron's drug issues and Michael's stint in rehab, for alcohol, in the mid-1990s - Kirk recently wrote about one of his own in The New York Times. He recalled that his own father died aged 72 from lung cancer. Kirk himself had never smoked until 1946, when he played Barbara Stanwyck's husband in his first film, The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers. The director wanted him to play a scene with a cigarette and soon he had a two-pack-a-day habit. A few years later, with tobacco companies supplying cartons every month, he quit cold turkey when he thought about his father.

"My father was a bit of a brute," he says. "But I learnt from him long after he was dead. So, sure, long after I'm dead I hope Michael or Cameron, or one of the other grandchildren, might see this movie and have an introspective moment. There's something to be said for taking a pause and deep breathing." Even while having your close-up.

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Legends: Kirk Conquers A Stroke
December 27, 2002

Michael Douglas has a lot to live up to: A father who is one of the last of his kind.

“They don’t make too many like him anymore,” Michael says of his father Kirk. Kirk Douglas, who is 85 years old, is making his 85th movie.

He is still confident in his ability to convey strength. “If I can’t, they won’t pay me. Then I won't have a job," the elder Douglas says.

His career almost ended seven years ago, when he suffered a stroke that left him speechless.

“I have always been an actor. An actor talks. Suddenly I had a stroke. I can’t talk. What is an actor who can’t talk?” he says.

The physical effects of the stroke were dramatic but the psychological effects were almost more tragic. The stroke left him very depressed.

“He couldn’t understand what happened to him,” says his wife Anne, to whom he has been married for almost 50 years.

Douglas describes his dark period in his book “My Stroke of Luck.” “One minute a pampered movie star, the next a babbling idiot,” he says.

At his lowest point, he found himself alone in his bedroom with a gun. He says he was serious about suicide, and put the gun in his mouth.

But one of the classic tough guys was saved from suicide by sensitive teeth and a sense of humor. The gun hit his teeth and he started to laugh. Now he says he is embarrassed: “Suicide is stupid and selfish.”

Douglas needed his wife to beat back the depression. She says she forced him to stop feeling sorry for himself and work with a speech therapist.

The 1996 Academy Awards were just six weeks away when Douglas had his stroke. He had to learn his lines and more importantly how to say them because he was getting an Oscar for lifetime achievement.

He was scared of speaking before such a large audience. But he rose to the occasion and so did the crowd. He spoke for several minutes that night. He has not stopped talking since.

“He has shown us another side of him that he can be every bit as heroic as the people he portrayed on screen, probably more so,” says Hollywood writer Larry Gelbart, who has known Douglas for years.

“He’s certainly much more touchy feely,” says Michael. “He’s more fuzzy and, truthfully, a much nicer person.”

Today Kirk Douglas is happiest in a role he started playing late in life. He and his wife have given away millions to children’s causes here and overseas.

Their latest project is rebuilding all the playgrounds in the Los Angeles school district. They have done 170, and plan to do 130 more.

“I think I have become a human being,” he says.

Kirk’s latest movie includes his son and his grandson.

Says Michael: “We’re having the best time in our lives. It’s just kind of a magical feeling.”

The movie is called "A Few More Years." In it Michael Douglas plays Kirk Douglas’s son. Kirk Douglas’s grandson Cameron plays the grandson. Kirk plays a man who’s had a stroke.

Kirk says he is most proud of having broken the Hollywood Blacklist. During the Cold War, Douglas risked his career by hiring a writer on “Spartacus” who had been denounced as a communist by congressional investigators. Most of Hollywood shunned the people on the blacklist.

His speech may be slurred but he still has a lot to say. “I’m out to be what I am and do what I can. And if you don’t like it, screw you,” he says.

How does he want to be remembered? “I tried. God damn it, I tried. I think all you can do in your life is try. You cannot do any more than try your best.”

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Kirk Douglas Remembers Theater Work
February 2, 2002

Stage work may have disappointed Kirk Douglas, but he hasn't forgotten theater's role in launching his movie career.

The 85-year-old "Spartacus" star is donating $2.5 million to renovate a dilapidated Culver City cinema into a 500-seat theater for plays managed by the Center Theatre Group.

"The point of the theater is to give young talent a chance to develop," Douglas said Tuesday.

The drama group still needs to raise $5.5 million to meet the estimated $8 million cost of all renovations.

If the money comes through, the 1947 Culver Theater building, which is a historic landmark, will be renamed the Kirk Douglas Theatre when the complex reopens in 2004.

Douglas began his career as a New York stage actor and wanted to stay there, saying he was "appalled" when a string of flops sent him looking for work in Hollywood.

He's best known for his roles in the 1949 boxing picture "The Champion," 1957's war drama "Paths of Glory" and the 1964 political thriller "Seven Days in May."

"In a sense I'm a failure," Douglas joked, "because I never wanted to be a movie actor. ... I thought maybe I could make some money."

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