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Michael Douglas talks family tragedy in moving rare appearance and its 'personal impact'

Michael and wife Catherine Zeta-Jones, his wife of 23 years, are actively outspoken about a variety of causes

L'acteur et producteur américain Michael Douglas lors du photocall pour la Palme d'Honneur du 76e festival de Cannes le 16 mai 2023.
Ahad Sanwari
Ahad SanwariOnline News WriterNew York
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Michael Douglas has devoted decades to activism and humanitarian efforts alongside his thriving acting career, making a recent rare public appearance for the same at a UNICEF Youth Event on the International Day of Peace on September 14.

The actor, 78, spoke to the crowd about his passion for the cause of nuclear disarmament and touched on the personal impact of the devastating effects of nuclear war.

He discussed the Three Mile Island nuclear accident of March 1979, and how it particularly impacted him due to coincidentally occurring days after the release of his film The China Syndrome.

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"It was an epiphany for me as I came to understand the dangerous potential of nuclear technology," he explained, adding to it the tragic way nuclear war affected his own family.

"The personal impact was later underscored when I learned while doing research on my family history that the town in Belarus where my grandfather came from was completely eliminated as a result of downwind damage from the Chernobyl disaster."

Michael's grandfather was Herschel "Harry" Danielovitch, the father of legendary actor Kirk Douglas. His paternal grandparents emigrated from Chavusy, Mogilev Governorate in the Russian empire, present day Belarus. 

The Oscar-winning actor continued: So began my journey to this organization. And for the past 25 years, I have lent my voice as a messenger of peace to help end the spread of weapons of all kinds, in the hope that you and your children will have a world free of violence."

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He passionately continued: "We must address the root cause of violence, whether it be climate change, gender inequality, or racial injustice. Peace and sustainable development are inextricably linked, we cannot have one without the other. And you cannot have either without the participation of everyone."

Kirk Douglas and son producer/actor Michael Douglas arrive at the premiere of "It Runs In The Family" at the Bruin Theater on April 7, 2003 in Los Angeles, California.© Getty Images
Michael revealed that his grandfather (Kirk's father) lost his hometown in Belarus to the Chernobyl disaster

Michael is a member of the board of the Nuclear Threat Initiative and was appointed a United Nations Messenger of Peace in 1998 for his activism, with his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones often participating alongside him.

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A large part of his advocacy for nuclear disarmament came directly due to the success of The China Syndrome with critics and audiences, bringing more awareness to nuclear disaster while being prescient enough to come out days before the Three Mile Island incident and seven years before Chernobyl.

UN Messenger of Peace Michael Douglas along with Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and a group of UN dignitaries  promotes peace and abolition of nuclear weapons through art today at the UN Headquarters in New York.© Getty Images
The actor has been a UN Messenger of Peace since 1998

The film, which Michael also produced, co-starred Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon, who were honored with Academy Award nominations for their performances. The film was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Art Direction Oscars.

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The film revolves around a reporter (played by Jane) and her cameraman (played by Michael) who discover several safety cover ups at a nuclear power plant, with a shift supervisor (played by Jack) intent on resolving the matter while battling the bureaucracy of upper management.

Kirk Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Michael Douglas attend the 2011 Children of Chernobyl's Children at Heart gala at the Chelsea Piers on November 21, 2011 in New York City.© Getty Images
His wife Catherine and his father are actively involved as well

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