It stands to reason that Kirk Douglas has outlived his contemporaries. In his movies, whether playing a detective, gunfighter or boxer, he was usually the last man standing. On 9 December, the ragman's-son-turned-movie-star will celebrate his 100th birthday surrounded by his Oscar-winning Hollywood dynasty, including his son Michael Douglas and daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Ahead of the milestone the Wall Street star said his father was "doing great", while Catherine recently enthused that her father-in-law was "as handsome and charming as ever". The Hollywood titan does indeed retain a twinkle in his eye and a ready wit. Told he is a living legend, the veteran actor is prone to joke, "At least I'm still living." And well into his 90s he was able to re-enact the spine-tingling 'I am Spartacus' scene from his most famous movie.
Kirk Douglas with his son Michael Douglas and daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta-Jones
It was aged seven that Kirk decided to become an actor after a part in a school play. "They applauded and I've been searching for that feeling ever since," he told the Hollywood Reporter.
There has of course been plenty of applause in a life with more twists and turns than the most fantastic film script, among them a helicopter crash and a stroke after which he had to learn how to speak again.
Kirk's quest for success began in Amsterdam, a town in upstate New York where he was born into a family of immigrant Russian Jews. Originally named Issur Danielovitch, he was the only boy out of seven children. Little Issy longed to escape the family's abject poverty, the anti-semitism in their neighbourhood and the stiflingly female atmosphere at home - his father, a short-tempered, hard-drinking man, wasn't around much.
He played the titular role in the 1960 epic Spartacus
A friend persuaded him to apply to St Lawrence University, where he arrived in the Dean's Office to seek admission with $163 in his pocket, smelling less than fresh after hitching a ride on the back of a manure truck. Soon after, the budding thespian changed his name and won a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Acts, where Lauren Bacall was a fellow student. Noticing how thin his winter coat was, she talked her uncle into giving him one of his own that Kirk wore for two years.
In 1943, he married another classmate, Diana Dill, the mother of his sons Michael and Joel. Later Lauren would intervene in his life again by recommending him to a Hollywood film producer.
Within a decade Kirk had earned three Oscar nominations, for Champion (1949), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) and Lust for Life (1956). By this time his relationship with Diana was falling apart. "He was, and is, incredibly dynamic, larger than life, a very masculine man who loved women, as my mother quickly discovered," said Michael in an interview with the Guardian. "Within 18 months of him being in California, she had seen enough to call time."
The silver screen icon has been married to second wife Anne since 1954
Kirk went on to wed Anne Buydens, a Belgian-German movie PR. The couple have been blissfully married since 1954 and their union produced two children, Peter and Eric.
If Kirk was ready to settle down in his personal life, in career terms he remained a rebel. It was as if inside he was still little Issy, who one day, tired of being bullied by his father, flicked a spoonful of hot tea at him as his sisters held their breath.
When the actor was asked to fill in that now famous dimple by a director he told him: "This is what you're getting." Offered a seven-picture contract by Paramount, he refused and started his own production company, named Bryna after his mother. When Hollywood, under the shadow of McCarthyism, blacklisted screenwriters with perceived communist links, Kirk bridled, offering one of them, Dalton Trumbo, a credit on Spartacus. "I've made over 85 pictures, but the thing I'm most proud of is breaking the blacklist," he said.
Kirk is one of the last surviving actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood
He should also be proud of the millions he has given to charity - the last donation, on his 99th birthday, was $15 million to a centre for Alzheimer’s patients. Unfortunately wealth has not insulated him from tragedy. In 1991, Kirk was in a helicopter crash in which two other people died. In 2004, his son Eric died of a drug overdose, and he and Anne still visit his grave each week.
The star also suffered a stroke, writing one of his ten books about it, My Stroke of Luck. The first time he spoke in public after it was to pick up a lifetime achievement Oscar in 1996. Kirk practised the words 'Thank you', but with 2,000 people on their feet he had to say a little more, so he paid a moving tribute of his own, saying: "This is for my wife Anne. I love you."