Anne Buyden and Kirk Douglas in 2003. Everett Collection/shutterstock
Born in Upstate New York in 1916, legendary actor Kirk Douglas passed away at 103 on Wednesday at his home in Beverly Hills. He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Anne Buydens, and three sons, including prominent actor Michael Douglas. In a statement obtained by People, Michael said, “Kirk’s life was well lived, and he leaves a legacy in film that will endure for generations to come, and a history as a renowned philanthropist who worked to aid the public and bring peace to the planet.”
Perhaps best known for his starring role in 1960’s Spartacus, Kirk Douglas amassed quite a large fortune during a time when not all high-profile actors pulled in huge sums. But Kirk was ahead of the curve by establishing a production company in the 1950s to make movies outside the studio system. And Anne took charge of the family’s bookkeeping and set up a trust that has been growing steadily ever since. Kirk was worth an estimated $60 million upon his passing.
An Early Hollywood Philanthropist
The Douglas family was also forward-thinking when it comes to philanthropy, launching the Douglas Foundation all the way back in 1964. The foundation describes itself as “one of the entertainment industry’s largest and oldest private philanthropic institutions.” In a recent fiscal year, the foundation reported some $8 million in assets, though that number swelled as high as $23 million last decade. The foundation gave away around $2.2 million in 2017.
Despite the impression some have about celebrity philanthropy, which is that it’s all posturing with little cash giving, the Douglas’ steady grantmaking through their foundation reveals that some of Hollywood’s most powerful are committed givers, work we continue to track through our Glitzy Givers vertical.
So what did Kirk Douglas support through his foundation, and what can we expect in the future?
Well, the Douglas Foundation’s primary focus is “improving the education and health, fostering the well-being, and most importantly, developing new opportunities for the children who hold our future in their hands.” The Douglas Foundation also supports various health projects, funds human services groups, and more.
The Douglases strongly supported Kirk’s alma mater, St. Lawrence University in New York, including bankrolling a scholarship for minority and underprivileged students. They also endowed the Kirk Douglas Fellowship at the American Film Institute to support graduate film students. Their philanthropy has also involved the University of California Santa Barbara, where Michael Douglas graduated. Michael has also been involved in philanthropy, creating an endowed chair at UCSB among his activities.
In addition, the family created the Anne & Kirk Douglas Recreation & Playground Awards, which helps LAUSD schools improve and enhance their outdoor and recreational space. The effort began when Anne read in the newspaper that the district’s schoolyards were so decrepit that children were being kept indoors. Upwards of 500 schools have received support through these awards. The couple also worked with the Sinai Temple of Los Angeles, where they funded the Douglas Family Early Childhood Center.
Health is another area the Douglas family focuses on. Anne overcame breast cancer and helped establish the Women’s Cancer Research Fund, a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF). And just a few years ago, on Kirk’s 99th birthday, the couple made a $15 million gift to the Motion Picture & TV Fund to support an Alzheimer’s facility called the Kirk Douglas Care Pavilion.
The couple also supported L.A. Mission, home to the Anne Douglas Center for Women, an “outreach and rehabilitation facility for women.” Kirk and his philanthropic legacy will continue to live on through his wife Anne, herself 100, and their children.