He's the former sex addict and recovering alcoholic who also happens to be one of the most recognisable actors on the planet; the slick movie star with a beautiful wife and young children, the star of some of the most important and controversial box office hits of the '80s and '90s. But now, Michael Douglas, stalwart of Hollywood and 66 next month, is facing perhaps the biggest challenge of his life – fighting cancer, and the prospect of not being able to act again. As the promotion for the belated sequel to Wall Street rumbles on without him, Douglas is recovering from an operation to remove tumours from his throat.
It feels like he has been around forever, but Douglas has the awards to back up the longevity of his career – three Golden Globes and, more importantly, two Academy Awards, the first for his role as producer in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, and the second for a career-defining turn in Wall Street for which he received the Best Actor Oscar.
Born in New Jersey to parents Diana Dill and the legendary actor Kirk Douglas, Douglas's upbringing was very different from that of his grandparents, immigrants who travelled to the US from Belarus. His father was in fact born Issur Herschelovich Danielovitch, which then became Izzy Demsky, and although he never legally changed his name, he found fame as Kirk Douglas. Young Michael's childhood was spent in a string of private schools, and in the early '60s, like many young Americans at the time, Douglas travelled west, earning a BA from the University of California.
Not long after graduating, Douglas netted his first long-term TV gig, starring in The Streets Of San Francisco for four years, but it never seemed as though he would sustain a career in acting. Instead, he began to win accolades behind the camera, principally his Oscar for 1975's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. He appeared in a few average films, but it was only in the early '80s, nearly 20 years after he graduated from university, and following a skiing accident that paused his career for three years, that his potential as a leading man began to be realised with the box office hit Romancing the Stone in 1984, which was followed swiftly by a cash-in sequel, The Jewel of the Nile. By the time Fatal Attraction hit the screens, Douglas was seen as one of the stars of his generation, a perception only reinforced by his brilliantly slithering turn as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, a character he all but completely transported to the set of The War of the Roses.
Douglas went from hit to hit and party to party in the '80s, but his lifestyle was catching up with him. By 1992 – the year of Basic Instinct – Douglas was one of the most talked-about celebrities, but for all the wrong reasons. He entered rehab to receive treatment for alcoholism and sex addiction. At the time, explaining the latter problem, Douglas was quoted as saying, "Sex is a wave that sweeps over me – the impulse, that is. And when the urge comes, I'm helpless every time." His wife of more than two decades, Diandra Lucker, with whom he had one son, Cameron, had had enough, and their divorce was finalised in 2000, the year he tied the knot with another, rather unexpected, partner.
According to the Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, Douglas chatted her up by saying, "I want to father your children." And indeed he did. They married the same year he divorced. Around the same time, both starred in what is probably the best film of the latter part of Douglas's career, Traffic, in which he played a politician with a drug-addicted daughter, and Zeta-Jones was the wife of a drug trafficker.
Douglas's marriage kept tabloid magazines afloat for a while, and indeed Zeta-Jones's career has certainly benefited from her husband's established position in the movie business. Two years after they married, she won an Oscar for a less than remarkable performance in the musical Chicago. In 2008, the gossips' tongues continued to wag as Douglas was spotted with what appeared to be incisions and bandages on his face from recent cosmetic work. The fact that his skin appeared more stretched and increasingly youthful did nothing to deflect rumours of a facelift.
Now he's facing procedures of a more critical kind. He almost immediately underwent surgery to have tumours in his throat removed after being diagnosed with cancer only last week. While he is expected to make a full recovery, surgery on his larynx is a possibility, meaning the actor's voice could be changed or muted altogether. Douglas is currently with his wife and children – Dylan (10), Carys (7) – in their family home in Bermuda, his mother's native country, presumably hoping that all is not lost, and that Gordon Gekko still has a lot to give.
Hero or Villain? Michael Douglas
High: Becoming a double Oscar winner and eclipsing his father's fame
Low: Being diagnosed with throat cancer