Kirk Douglas gave some of his best performances as men bucking the system, taking on everything from the artistic establishment as Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956) to conventional morality as the unscrupulous hero of Champion (1949) and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). His searing intensity and husky physique made him seem a born battler, and he had just the right voice for characters that often spoke through clenched teeth. He actually beat the system in real life, rising from his beginnings as the son of an immigrant junk dealer (he titled his 1988 memoir The Ragman’s Son) to become an international superstar. He developed his love of acting in high school, leading him to enroll in the American Academy of Dramatic Art, where one of his best friends was Betty Joan Persky. Moving to Hollywood as Lauren Bacall, she pushed producer Hal Wallis to test him, leading to Douglas’s screen debut as Barbara Stanwyck’s husband in The Strange Love of Martha lvers (1946). Initially cast as neurotics and weaklings, Douglas broke out as a star when he took a salary cut to play the brutal boxer in Champion. He demonstrated his range with roles like the romantic English professor in A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and sailor Ned Land in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954). He was most identified with intense, driven characters like those in Detective Story, Ace in the Hole (both 1951), The Bad and the Beautiful, and Lust for Life; the latter performance was often hailed as his best. In the late fifties, Douglas moved into independent production, working with director Stanley Kubrick on two of his best films, Paths of Glory (1957) and Spartacus (1960). Douglas took a chance on a tragic modern western with Lonely Are the Brave (1962), a box office failure that became a cult classic. More commercial were his sixties westerns and war films, including two with John Wayne, In Harm’s Way (1965) and The War Wagon (1967). In the seventies, Douglas moved into character roles, as the driven father in The Fury (1978), an egocentric film star in Home Movies (1979), and the Wile E. Coyote—like gunman in The Villain (1979). A 1995 stroke slowed him considerably, though he has still been able to make selected screen appearances, most notably in the comedy It Runs in the Family (2003), with his son Michael Douglas, grandson Cameron Douglas, and ex-wife Diana Dill.