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Michael Douglas: A Life on Screen

Highlights from the versatile entertainer’s half-century (and counting) career

  • Richard Lautens/Toronto Star/Getty Images

    A Man in Full

    En español | Five decades after his first movie role — as an uncredited jeep driver in father Kirk’s aptly titled Cast a Giant Shadow — Michael Douglas appeared at the Toronto International Film Festival to promote his 2014 thriller, Beyond the Reach.

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  • Kerry Hayes/Open Road Films

    Raising a Star

    At 11 years old in 1955, a young Michael Douglas (far right) gets a lift from his father, studly movie star Kirk  (that’s younger bro Joel at left). Douglas would emerge from his father’s shadow to cast a long one of his own. He receives the 2015 Career Achievement Award from AARP’s Movies for Grownups in February. 

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  • ABC/Getty Images

    TV Calls

      Starring with Karl Malden as Inspector Steve Keller in TV’s Streets of San Francisco (1972-76) gave Douglas a chance to chase perps, blast away at bad guys and hop on and off moving cable cars. His soon-to-be-famous coif (and maroon knit ties) stayed perfectly in place throughout.

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  • ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

    Oscar Gold

    Douglas first nabbed an Academy Award at age 31 — not as an actor, but as a coproducer (with Saul Zaentz, far left) of 1975’s Best Picture, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, starring Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher. Michael had secured the rights to film the Ken Kesey novel from his father, who had bought them for a song — $47,000 — in 1962.

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  • Corbis

    A Married Man

    Willowy Diandra Luker, the daughter of an Austrian diplomat, was a college sophomore when Douglas spotted her across the room at Jimmy Carter’s inaugural gala in 1977. “He had this enormous, burly beard,” she recalled of that night. “He looked like a painter or a sculptor … We were people from opposite worlds.” They wed nine weeks later, divorcing in 2000.

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  • United Archives GmbH/Alamy

    Glowing Reviews

    The Douglas knack for film projects ripped from the headlines first showed itself in 1979, when he produced (and starred opposite Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon) in The China Syndrome. The antinuclear film warned that a power-plant mishap “would render an area the size of Pennsylvania permanently uninhabitable.” Twelve days after the movie premiered, Three Mile Island melted down — in Pennsylvania.    

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  • 20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

    Rom-com Lead

    Romancing the Stone (1984) cast Douglas in the role of a reluctant but resourceful hero, the romance novelist Jack T. Colton. The action flick made a star of Kathleen Turner and reunited Douglas with an old roommate, Danny DeVito; the two had met backstage at a Eugene O’Neill conference 18 years earlier.

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  • Alamy

    A Fatal Flaw

    In Fatal Attraction (1987) — the first of many roles in which he would play driven, troubled men — Douglas got in way over his head with one-night stand (and then stalker) Glenn Close. The film attracted and polarized viewers, Douglas told Gene Siskel, because of “this very powerful, visceral instinct for obsessive lust amid seeming decency and normality.”

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  • 20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

    Ruthless Raider

    With his slicked-back hair, silky voice and pink power shirts, Wall Street’s ruthless corporate raider Gordon Gekko — here instructing Charlie Sheen how to game the system — defined the greed of the go-go ’80s. Douglas’ masterly channeling of the amoral times earned him a best-actor Oscar. “You want a friend? Get a dog!”

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  • Alamy

    He-e-re’s Mikey!

    In 1989 the Stone gang reunited to film The War of the Roses, a black comedy about marriage, divorce and real estate lust. With DeVito directing (and playing a divorce lawyer), Douglas deployed all his acting gifts — from charm to smarm to arming himself — as Oliver Rose in a plate-smashing, pet-squashing battle with wife Barbara. Has anyone seen the cat lately?

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  • Columbia TriStar/Getty Images

    A Great Instinct

    Douglas pushed all sorts of boundaries — and showed a side of himself we’d never seen before — when he was cast as rogue detective Nick Curran opposite relative newcomer Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct (1992). Others may recall the film’s initial X rating, or Stone’s famous “commando” interrogation; we see it as proof you can be a sex symbol at 47.

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  • Ron Galella/Getty Images

    Zeta … Zing!

    Douglas first spied Catherine Zeta-Jones “up on the screen, the way everybody did,” in The Mask of Zorro. The two met when Danny DeVito introduced them at the Deauville American Film Festival in August 1998. “It wasn’t just her looks, but a persona that came through,” Douglas recalled. “By the time we met, I was looking to get involved.” Mission accomplished, Michael: The pair began dating seven months later.

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  • Lucy Nicholson/AP

    Traffic Jam

    The couple appeared together at this December 2000 premiere of drug saga Traffic in Beverly Hills (along with costars Salma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro and Amy Irving). But as Douglas points out, “Catherine and I never actually had any scenes together — she shot in San Diego and I was mostly in Ohio.”

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  • Larry Busacca/Getty Images

    Full Circle

      Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones were the main attractions at a December 2015 lunch in the actor’s honor in New York. Douglas is the ninth actor to receive AARP’s Movies for Grownups annual Career Achievement Award.

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  • Justin Stephens

    Michael Douglas ATM Cover Story

    To Life! And to second chances and long successes — and to you, Michael Douglas: father, husband, Hollywood icon  

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