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Kirk Doughlas: a look back at his key roles on the silver screen

Silver screen legend Kirk Douglas has died at the age of 103, after an illustrious career spanning more than a half century.

Here is a selection of Douglas’s most famous roles, with a concentration of great performances coming in the 1950s and 1960s.

-Champion (1949)

In one of his most memorable early appearances, Douglas showed his mettle as a boxing champ in this rags-to-glory tale that earned the actor his first of three Oscar nominations and captured the fighting spirit he would bring to future roles.

“I didn’t think I was so tough until I did Champion, then I was a tough guy,” Douglas told The Hollywood Reporter in 2012.

-The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

Douglas teamed up with Hollywood directing legend Vincenti Minnelli for this melodrama about a sharp-suited, slick-haired film producer strutting around movieland, seductive and ruthless in equal measure.

Winning a second Oscar nomination, Douglas showcased a different kind of toughness — darker and more cruel — as he embodied the negative forces in the cinema world, where beauty is fragile and money is power.

-20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

This popular hit, adapted from a Jules Verne children’s story, won two Oscars for effects and design and brought Douglas high praise as an intrepid deep-sea explorer battling a terrifying sea monster.

The feature was produced by Walt Disney and one of the first films in the sumptuous CinemaScope format that created stunning, saturated colours perfect for this underwater adventure caper.

-Lust for Life (1956)

In one of the most memorable screen incarnations of Vincent Van Gogh and a radical break from his tough-guy roles, Douglas captured the tortured artist’s brilliance and madness and notched a third Oscar nod.

“I was close to getting lost in the character,” said Douglas in his autobiography The Ragman’s Son (1988) about the particularly intense experience of playing the artist, who famously cut off his own ear.

“Sometimes I had to stop myself from reaching my hand up and touching my ear to find out if it was actually there. It was a frightening experience. That way lies madness.”

-Spartacus (1960)

Douglas “gave humanity to a legendary hero”, wrote The Guardian in 2017 of the actor’s celebrated performance as the leader of a slave revolt against the mighty Roman Empire.

In his second collaboration with director Stanley Kubrick after the anti-war Paths of Glory three years earlier, a bronzed Douglas — scantily clad in a metal tunic and leather sandals — picked up his sword and rode horseback in the now classic epic that scooped four Oscars.

Lonely Are the Brave (1962)

The actor’s personal favourite, Douglas starred alongside Gena Rowlands as a noble cowboy who refuses to adapt to the modern world in this low-budget Western.

Cowboys and Douglas are fused in the Hollywood imagination, the actor having starred in a host of classic Westerns, including Gunfight at the OK Coral in 1957, alongside his great friend Burt Lancaster.

“I love the theme that if you try to be an individual, society will crush you,” wrote Douglas in his autobiography, explaining his special fondness for Lonely Are the Brave.

“It’s hard to imagine a film so radical, or so pessimistic, being made today,” wrote the New York Times in 2012, praising its interrogation of the “idea, and value, of heroism”.

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