Tuesday, February 15, 2011
When actor Kirk Douglas had his stroke and lost much of his ability to speak 14 years ago at the age of 80, he already had a lifetime of accomplishments. He is #17 on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest male American screen legends of all time.
But the acclaimed star of Spartacus, The Juggler, Paths of Glory, Lust for Life, and more than 80 other films wasn't about to give up just because of a stroke. So he set out to recover as much of his speaking ability as possible. In the process, his efforts and success have also become legendary.
Last summer, Douglas made an hour-long appearance on stage at California State University - Long Beach before an audience of communication disorder students. Interviewed by his speech therapist, Dr. Betty McMicken, he captivated his audience with one-liners, a running gag about wilted flowers, and acting verbally playful with his interviewer.
Touching on his upbringing in a rural New York town by immigrant parents, he explained how Issur Danielovich became Kirk Douglas, his friendship with the horse his father used to drive his rag wagon, his first conversation with his mother at age 7 about where snow comes from and how he was born, and how he knew he would be an actor when he played a cute shoemaker in a kindergarten play.
Douglas also reflected on how he found the solution to the depression he felt after his stroke (think about and help other people), how he broke the Hollywood blacklist, and how he met his wife of 54 years.
All in all, we found it to be a very funny and moving interview, which we hope you will also enjoy. (One word of caution: It's an hour-long video, which may be more than you are used to getting from Jewish Humor Central. So if you don't have the time to watch it all, try watching it in 5 or 10 minute segments.)