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Kirk Douglas’ Son Michael Once Refused to Call Kirk ‘Dad’ & Was More 'Attached’ to His Stepfather

Joe Akins
Feb 22, 2022
11:40 A.M.
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Kirk Douglas was one of Hollywood's leading box office stars in the 1950s. His success continued for several decades; however, his personal life was the opposite, especially his relationship with his son.

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Few Hollywood stars can boast the longevity of Kirk Douglas' career. The movie icon was one of the industry's leading actors in the 1950s. Kirk was featured in several classic movies and won some prestigious awards.

Kirk's role in "The Strangers" made him a household name, and his imposing looks earned him the affection of his fans. However, the actor seemed to have passed on his acting skills to his son, Michael Douglas, who has an Oscar to his name.

Portrait of Actor Kirk Douglas circa 1940 [left] Joel Douglas, left, 6, and Michael Kirk, 9, right, and their dad, Kirk Douglas at the U.S. Customs office at Idlewild Airport. [middle] Michael Douglas Promotes The Balearic Islands At The World Travel Market In London'S Docklands.[right] | Source: Getty Images

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Michael is Kirk's son from his marriage to his first wife, Diana. The former couple were both Hollywood stars and were married for eight years. Diana met Kirk at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. The actor was smitten by her beauty and vowed to marry her.

After dating for a while, the couple tied the knot in 1943. Although things started romantically, both parties agreed that their relationship was too turbulent to last long.

The couple divorced in 1951, and Kirk married Anne Buydens. Their relationship lasted several decades, but he became distant from his son, Michael.

MICHAEL HAD A ROUGH CHILDHOOD GROWING UP FAR FROM HIS FATHER

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Kirk Douglas, and his sons Michael and Joel at Orly Airport circa 1953 | Source: Getty Images

Like his father, Kirk, Michael grew up to become an influential and successful actor. However, his childhood was filled with both pleasant and unpleasant memories. Seeing his parents' divorce was a turning point in Michael's life.

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The actor once said, "My own parents divorced when I was six. I was raised with my brother Joel by our mother on the east coast, visiting my father in Los Angeles during holidays. When your parents are divorced, you don't know anything else, do you?"

Kirk Douglas looks to Diana Douglas in a scene from the film "The Indian Fighter," circa 1955. | Photo: Getty Images

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Also, Michael grew up with the burden of surpassing his father, a leading Hollywood star. The pressure to outdo his father's acting record made him feel like he was walking in Kirk's shoes and not following his dreams.

Michael confessed his admiration for Kirk. However, he was mainly intimidated and bitter about his constant absence. Kirk had a busy career that kept him far from his family and young sons.

However, Kirk planned to be a good father despite not being in his children's lives. Unlike his own dad, the "Spartacus" star wanted to make a difference, but he couldn't help but butt heads with his kids.

KIRK'S RELATIONSHIP WITH MICHAEL

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Kirk and his son, Michael, had a fractured relationship for several years. The younger Douglas once claimed he refused to call Kirk "dad" and instead chose to shower that affection on his stepfather.

Michael claimed Kirk only visited him and his brother Joel out of guilt following the broken relationship with their mother, Diana.

However, things went south after the "Fatal Attraction" star convinced his father to sell him the rights to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," but failed to feature him in the lead role and instead went for Jack Nicholson, a younger actor.

Kirk Douglas and son producer/actor Michael Douglas arrive at the premiere of "It Runs In The Family" at the Bruin Theater on April 7, 2003 | Source: Getty Images

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Another dividing point was Michael's 2000 wedding to Catherine Zeta-Jones. Kirk maintained that he did not want to be in the same room with his ex-wife, Diana, leaving the Douglas family divided.

After Diana's divorce from Kirk, she married Bill Darrid, who also earned her love and her children with Kirk. For Michael, his stepfather was the man he recognized as a dad. 

Michael Douglas arrives with his children and his wife Welsh actress Catherine Zeta Jones at the Jerusalem Theater on June 18, 2015 | Source: Getty Images

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Michael said about his relationship with Darrid, "Bill was an extraordinary guy, the most important male influence through my teenage years. To his credit, Kirk always referred to him as my surrogate father." 

He further added, "Step-parents often get bad press. But it isn't always true. This was a man who took on the responsibility of raising another man's children, and that included answering questions about the birds and the bees."

MICHEAL'S CAREER SUCCESS AND KIRK'S INFLUENCE ON IT

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Michael found fame as a star in "Streets of San Francisco," but he hoped to become a feature actor and producer. Kirk's "Cuckoo's Nest" play was the perfect way to get started as a producer, but his father refused to sell.

Kirk was disappointed to find out that Michael had chosen a younger man for the role he had longed to play. Although he was happy about his son's success, it nonetheless strained their relationship. Unfortunately, things got worse when the film racked up several awards and nominations. 

Michael and Kirk later began to rebuild their bond in the years that followed the incident. The "Spartacus" star suffered a stroke in 1996, and his son provided him with a shoulder to lean on.

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Michael was with his dad in his final two weeks and during visits to the hospital. At Kirk's death, the 77-year-old shared a touching tribute to the Hollywood icon, showing how close they had become over the years.

In his touching tribute, the actor wrote, "To the world, he was a legend, an actor from the golden age of movies who lived well into his golden years, a humanitarian whose commitment to justice and the causes he believed in setting a standard for all of us to aspire to. But to me and my brothers Joel and Peter, he was simply Dad."

MICHAEL'S FATHERHOOD JOURNEY WITH HIS KIDS

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Although he tried to avoid the same parenting mistakes his dad made, Michael found himself on a similar journey and made a series of poor parenting decisions, which he now vows to change.

The actor was formerly married to Diandra Luker, but their marriage ended in divorce in 2000, and Michael admits to making some mistakes that cost him his marriage and affected his children.

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Michael put his career first and had little time for his children. His absence affected his family, and his son Cameron Douglas mixed with the wrong crowd and got involved with drug-related crimes. He was sentenced to prison in 2010, and Michael admitted that his parental failure was partly to blame.

Michael, who also shares children Dylan and Carys with his second wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, became more involved in his son's legal journey and later became an advocate of the injustices in the system against addicts.

The "Basic Instinct" star is paying close attention to his younger children and is concerned they might inherit his addiction problems which he believes run in the family. Michael said he is doing everything possible to keep his little ones away from the dark path of drug addiction.

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