Welcome to the storied life of actor-producer Michael Douglas, son of Hollywood icon Kirk Douglas, a self-described absentee parent and flagrant womanizer whose son followed in his professional and personal footsteps. Now there’s a new biography to chart Douglas Jr.’s missteps and milestones, loaded with juicy tidbits about Douglas’s struggles in Hollywood, his half-baked marriage to an Austrian diplomat’s daughter, Diandra Luker, and his lifelong struggle to please his father.
After an extended hippie phase, Douglas shot to fame on The Streets of San Francisco, a TV show in the mid ’70s featuring Douglas’s long, feathered hair. He parlayed that into an Academy Award-winning producing career, making One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The China Syndrome. Yet Douglas was still not seen as a leading man. He needed heat. That didn’t come until 1984, when he produced and starred in Romancing the Stone with Kathleen Turner, one of his many extramarital entanglements. A string of hits, like Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct and Disclosure, followed, cementing Douglas’s new niche: middle-aged white guy succumbs to temptress and squirms to save himself and/or his family. With his own marriage on the rocks, many, including the author, conclude Douglas was acting out his demons onscreen.
Douglas’s stint in rehab for alleged sex addiction in 1992 made him the butt of jokes, but he got the last laugh by marrying Catherine Zeta-Jones in 2000 and devoting himself to fatherhood, finally, the second time around. When his son from his first marriage, Cameron, was sentenced to jail in 2010 for drug-related offences, Douglas took the blame for his “absences” as a father.
While entertaining, the book contains too much pop psych about the daddy complexes roiling within the Douglas clan. Curiously, the author, like Kirk, tries to sell the notion of Douglas Jr. as a passive person, mirroring some of his film roles. It’s highly unlikely, considering the drive and persistence it takes to get films produced in Hollywood—even if your dad is Spartacus.