The star appeared to choke up while thanking her Thursday at a luncheon at Le Bernardin in New York City held to honor his receipt of the 2016 AARP Movies for Grownups Career Achievement Award.
“I just wanted to thank my wife,” Douglas, 71, told an audience including Blythe Danner, Glenn Close and Paul Rudd. “I wanted to explain to Catherine that, sweetheart, this is a very exclusive club that maybe in a few years, if you play your cards right, you may be able to [join].”
As the audience chuckled, Douglas added he wanted “to thank you as we celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary: Thank you for the love and all your support. Thank you so much.”
Zeta-Jones, 46, elegantly clad in a black dress, appeared moved by Douglas’ words. Only two weeks before, she posted her own anniversary tribute on Instagram.
Before the luncheon, Douglas told PEOPLE that Zeta-Jones’ public anniversary wishes were a little too effusive for their two kids: son Dylan, 15, and daughter Carys, 12.
“It’s a little gushy for them, but they’re still in denial … they have a tough time when we kiss,” he joked.
“But,” he added, “it’s a good time, holiday time, trying to overcome some of the adversity in the world, try to keep a positive tone and do what you can to make things better.”
Douglas said his health continues to improve, telling PEOPLE at the event, which was hosted by AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins and Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, “It’s good – I’m five years out now. Normally if you’re five years clean that’s … no reason to believe it’s going to come back around. I feel good. I’ve got a couple of young kids to keep us going.”
Douglas also told the audience that his bout with cancer affected his family spiritually.
When he turned 70, he says, he reflected that “Catherine and our son Dylan [have] chosen the Jewish faith. [He] talks about lighting the candles and feeling something in his soul, and I go, ‘Yep, I know what you mean, I remember that.’ I feel very fortunate.”
When asked on-stage to talk about his health during a discussion with AARP The Magazine editor in chief Robert Love, Douglas took several beats to contemplate the question.
“Hmmm,” he began, appearing emotional about the topic. “Well, it’s good to be alive.”
The audience erupted in applause before Douglas continued: “That was a workout because it was one of those situations where I was aware of something being wrong and had two or three misdiagnoses and spent a year before I went in and found out it was stage 4, which in my past homework was no good.”
He also referenced Gwyneth Paltrow‘s father, Bruce, whose wife Blythe Danner was in the room.
“I share this with Blythe’s deceased husband Bruce, who I adored; he had a very similar cancer … once you come out that end you have a resurgence of energy and taking advantage of what you want to do with your life.”