Kirk Douglas, one of the last stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age who died on Wednesday at 103, never won an Academy Award despite three nominations during the height of his career. In 1996, half a century after his film debut in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” (1946), the academy awarded him an honorary Oscar “for 50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community” (watch above).
The award was presented to Douglas, then 79, by Steven Spielberg, who extolled the icon’s key role in helping to “hammer the blacklist to pieces,” in addition to his cinematic contributions. Douglas famously fought for writer Dalton Trumbo to be credited on “Spartacus” (1960), breaking down barriers for other blacklisted creatives.
At the time of the ceremony, Douglas was recovering from a stroke that he had suffered two months earlier in January, which Spielberg referenced. “Whether he’s dealing with a character onscreen or with the all too real effects of a recent stroke, courage remains Kirk Douglas’ personal and professional hallmark,” he said.
“Most stars of his stature are shaped out of mythic clay,” Spielberg continued. “Kirk Douglas never chose that. He doesn’t have a single character that makes him unique. Instead, he has a singular honesty, a drive to be inimitable. That’s what animates all his roles from Spartacus to Vincent van Gogh.”
Accepting the honor, Douglas, who was nominated for his lead performances in “Champion” (1949), “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952) and “Lust for Life” (1956), gave some brief remarks, as he was still undergoing speech therapy to regain his ability to speak.
“I see my four sons. They are proud of the old man. And I am proud too. Proud to be a part of Hollywood for 50 years. But this is for my wife, Anne. I love you,” he said. “And tonight I love all of you, and I thank all of you for 50 wonderful years. Thank you. Thank you.”