Kirk Douglas changed his name after fearing his original, Issur Danielovitch, was too Jewish for Hollywood at the time

By Ale Russian
February 06, 2020 11:31 AM
Advertisement

Kirk Douglas, who died Wednesday at 103, had a whole other life before he became a legendary Hollywood actor.

Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch in upstate New York, the son of poor and illiterate Russian immigrants Herschel and Bryna, who later went by Harry and Bertha. Their first name change came when they moved to America and took up the surname Demsky, after Herschel’s brother, who was already working in America.

The family was Jewish and spoke Yiddish at home, and his father Harvey was barred from working in the factories due to his faith. He was forced to sell rags and scrap metal, and Douglas recalled his mother yelling at him and his six sisters in frustration when they complained of hunger.

“My father was not very affectionate,” Douglas previously told PEOPLE. “He was never interested in what I was doing. I had six sisters and no brothers and I wanted to be close to my father and he just ignored me.”

When Douglas grew up and set out to make a name for himself, after working dozens of odd jobs throughout his youth, he decided to make a change.

He told PEOPLE in 2015 his name was too unwieldy and too Semitic for Hollywood at the time, so he changed it to Kirk Douglas before pursuing a career in show business.

“I wish I had kept it,” he said, looking back on the decision. “It’s more interesting to keep your original name. But can you imagine that name on a marquee?”

Kirk Douglas
| Credit: Getty Images

Yet his birth name does still live on, thanks to grandson Cameron Douglas.

Cameron, who is Michael Douglas‘s oldest son, honored Douglas by naming his daughter Lua Izzy after him. 3-year-old Lua, his only great-grandchild, spent plenty of time with the legendary actor before his death, with Cameron, 41, often sharing sweet pictures of the two.

The first came just weeks after she was born when Cameron posted a picture of Douglas holding little Lua in his arms. A few months later, the two reunited again: Cameron posted heartwarming picture of Lua on the ground looking up at Douglas and reaching for his hand.

Michael, 75, shared an emotional statement with PEOPLE announcing his father’s death on Wednesday.

“It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103. To the world, he was a legend, an actor from the golden age of movies who lived well into his golden years, a humanitarian whose commitment to justice and the causes he believed in set a standard for all of us to aspire to.”

The actor continued, “But to me and my brothers Joel and Peter he was simply Dad, to Catherine, a wonderful father-in-law, to his grandchildren and great grandchild their loving grandfather, and to his wife Anne, a wonderful husband.”

“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,” Michael added. “Let me end with the words I told him on his last birthday and which will always remain true. Dad- I love you so much and I am so proud to be your son.”