Kirk Douglas was born Issur "Izzy" Danielovitch Demsky in Amsterdam, New York, in 1916. After working his way through St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, he received a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. He then served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and was discharged after being injured in 1944.
After the war, Douglas returned to New York City and started his career doing radio theater and commercials. He made his Broadway debut in 1943, at the age of 27. He appeared in six productions through 1963, including One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1963-1964), which would later become a much lauded film co-produced by his son, Michael Douglas.
Douglas appeared in his first film in 1946, in a co-starring role for Hal Wallis Productions.
He has appeared in more than 70 feature films. His last film appearance was in 2004.
Douglas married the actress Diana Dill in 1943. They had two sons: actor/producer Michael Douglas and producer Joel Douglas. They were divorced in 1951. He married Anne Buydens in 1954 and they also had two children. One son, the actor Eric Douglas, died in 2004 of an accidental drug overdose. The other son became the producer Peter Douglas.
In 1996, Douglas suffered a stroke, partially impairing his ability to speak.
He passed away in Los Angeles, in 2020, at the age of 103.