While Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas made a multimillion-dollar fortune throughout his career, his children didn't receive even a cent of the inheritance.
Kirk Douglas, one of the greatest actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood and known for classic films like Spartacus and The Bad and the Beautiful, died in 2020 at 103.
After decades of fame, including 75 movie credits, he accumulated a net worth of approximately $80 million. But when he passed away, his will left nothing to his children, so where did all that money go?
Douglas had a tough childhood, and after his mega success in Hollywood, he used his wealth to help the less fortunate because he knew exactly how it was to be poor.
Kirk Douglas's Tough Childhood
Despite his mega-successful career, Douglas came from a humble background.
He was born Issur Danielovitch on December 9, 1916, in Amsterdam, New York. Later, he changed his name to Kirk Douglas because he thought it'd be good for his acting career.
As the only son in a family of seven children, his parents were Russian Jewish immigrants.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, 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.
His father, Hershel, couldn't get hired by anyone because he was Jewish. So, he instead became a junk dealer to support his large family.
The actor also revealed in an interview with the outlets that he and his family didn't have enough food to eat while growing up.
So, they would steal some food to get by. His sisters even had to beg for bones so their mother could prepare soup for them.
"When I was hungry, I stole food – an egg from under a neighbor's hen or a tomato from a garden. I also wiped fruit and vegetables from a stand."
Douglas was often teased because he was Jewish and even attacked by local gangs. Still, that didn't break him one bit. He instead worked hard to help his family and earn himself a better life.
Major Turning Point
Douglas attended Wilbur Lynch High School, now Amsterdam High School, where he first became interested in drama. But he didn't have enough money for college when he finished high school.
Luckily, he was an intelligent student and had received many awards in high school.
So, he decided to take a leap of faith and hitchhiked 200 miles to St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, with a pal who was a sophomore there.
He brought all his high school acting awards, transcripts, essays, and poems, including a letter of recommendation from his English teacher.
Upon arrival, Douglas asked the dean why they should let him study at their institution. His pitch worked, and the dean helped him get a college loan. The following semester, he secured a college scholarship.
Throughout his college life, Douglas worked at various hotels and resorts, as well as a shill in the circus. He also acted at the Tamarack Playhouse on Lake Pleasant.
Douglas's most significant turning point was meeting Betty Perske, whom he met at Manhattan's American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He was 25, while Perske was 17 at the time.
Douglas's Hollywood Fame
After serving in the US Navy during WWII and a brief career on Broadway, Kirk made his first Hollywood film, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, in 1946.
Three years later, he gave a breakthrough performance as a boxer in 1949's Champion and received critical acclaim for his portrayal of Midge Kelly in the film. The movies also earned him his first Academy Award nomination.
Douglas continued to star in films in the following years, and in 1955 he opened his own production company called Bryna Productions.
This company would produce two of the most pivotal film roles in his career — as Colonel Dax in Paths of Glory (1957) and Spartacus in Spartacus (1960).
Douglas' knack for acting kept him on the big screen well into his old age.
His Family Life
Douglas married his first wife, Diana, in 1943. Together they had two sons, Peter and Michael Douglas. However, they divorced in 1951.
Not long after, Douglas met his second wife, Anne. The two married in 1954 and stayed married until his passing at 103 in 2020.
Anne died a year later, in 2021, at 102. The couple also shared two sons, Joel, and Eric Douglas.
Michael is the most famous Douglas son. Deemed as one of the best actors of his generation, he's a two-time Oscar winner, a Golden Globe winner with a Cecil B. DeMille Award, and an AFI Life Achievement Award.
Kirk Douglas's Charitable Works
Douglas's impoverished childhood made him want to give back to society as much as he could. He tried to use his wealth to help others like himself who come from underprivileged backgrounds.
His wife Anne, too, knew what it meant to struggle. Although she was born into a privileged family in Germany, WWII divided her family and turned privilege into hardship.
In 1964, the couple founded the Douglas Foundation "to help those who cannot help themselves." The charity's primary focus is improving health and education, fostering well-being, and developing new opportunities for kids.
After his passing, Douglas left most of his $80 million wealth to his foundation, the charity he co-founded nearly six decades ago. And none of the children inherited anything from their father's mega estate.
Despite horror stories of inheritance issues ending in bitter family rivalries, the Douglas family was okay with their father's wishes.