Michael Douglas may have been born into Hollywood royalty, but he has built a singular career as a producer and actor one step at a time.
A self-proclaimed late bloomer, Douglas soaked up lessons in moviemaking and acting early, watching his legendary father Kirk and actress mother Diana, visiting his father’s sets during school breaks and studying drama in college. In his thirties, he caught the public’s attention as the second lead to veteran Karl Malden in the hit television series THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO. With Malden as mentor, Douglas absorbed lessons in work ethic, story structure, editing and collaborating with producers and directors to best serve the material.
When the opportunity came to develop a story he felt passionately about, he took a chance at producing. The property was Ken Kesey’s ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, the bestselling novel that his father had been trying to make into a movie for nearly a decade. With it he launched a producing career that has been remarkable for its timely choices and extraordinary rate of success.
Since sweeping the Academy Awards with producing partner Saul Zaentz in 1975, the through line in Douglas’s long, productive life in the movies has been his instinct for subjects that capture the zeitgeist while entertaining a global audience. Movies like ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, THE CHINA SYNDROME, FATAL ATTRACTION, WALL STREET, BASIC INSTINCT, TRAFFIC and FALLING DOWN not only engendered public debate at the times of their release, but they remain an enduring part of America’s cultural legacy — reminding us forever of who we were at a specific moment in time.
As an actor, Michael Douglas has created a rogue’s gallery of imperfect men who grapple with the issues of our times while slyly delighting audiences. “Who is better?” asks screenwriter William Goldman. “My answer is: at what he does, no one. And just what does Douglas play so brilliantly? The flawed, contemporary American male.”
In 1987, already in his forties, Douglas discovered his strength as an actor in two iconic roles. As the philandering husband who underestimates the costs of a casual affair in FATAL ATTRACTION, he played a “man who is weak, culpable, morally indolent, compromised, and greedy for illicit sensation,” said historian David Thomas. And in WALL STREET, as rapacious tycoon Gordon Gekko, he crafted a villain who will reverberate as long as ambitious young men and women want to believe that “greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”
Since then, Douglas has grown into one of America’s great character actors. He has mined the darker side of modern manhood in such diverse roles as D-Fens, the befuddled defense worker in FALLING DOWN, and Grady Tripp, the pot-smoking college professor in a pink bathrobe in WONDER BOYS. He has played comedy and drama with equal flair, transforming himself into a very human American president, a California mad man and a number of top professional men whose fine tailoring can’t save them from big trouble. In his sixties, Douglas remains a force — about to bring back Gekko in the timely, much-anticipated WALL STREET 2.
In the tradition of his family, Michael Douglas is a generous philanthropist, advocating for nuclear disarmament on the board of Ploughshares Fund and as a United Nations Messenger of Peace. The Michael Douglas & Friends Celebrity Golf Event has supported the Motion Picture & Television Fund for 10 years. He supports his alma mater, UC Santa Barbara, where he helped fund the Center for Film, Television and New Media and established the Michael Douglas Foundation Visiting Artists Program for the Department of Theater and Dance. He donated funds to help save 70 acres of coastal bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean from development, creating a public park in Santa Barbara. And in 1999, he established the Michael Douglas Pediatric Brain Tumor Research Center at UC San Francisco.
As AFI honors Michael Douglas for his achievements in film, he takes great pride in his family, savoring time with wife Catherine Zeta-Jones and their children Dylan and Carys, embracing ties with father Kirk and son Cameron, and continuing to balance the joys of acting with the responsibilities of producing movies that reflect the times in which we live.