Kirk Douglas: The Actor Philanthropist
Growing up in West Virginia in the 50s, I watched television on three stations. I loved movies and actors that made an impression on me for a variety of reasons. The actors who made an impression on me jumped out of the television through their presence and impact. To this day, I love to watch old movies again and again, and their impact always remains the same. One of my favorite actors of the past was Kirk Douglas. As I always relate people to philanthropy, I was curious when I learned of his passing that he was a true philanthropist. That made his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame shine even brighter in my book!
Kirk Douglas, well-known star of the screen for many years, passed away recently at 103 years old. According to Wikipedia, Kirk Douglas, born Issur Danielovitch, was an American actor, producer, director, philanthropist and author. His film debut was in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.” During his career, he appeared in more than 90 films and became an international star. Some of his movies included “Spartacus,” “Lonely Are the Brave,” “Lust for Life” and “Gunfight at the OK Corral.”
According to St. Lawrence University, Kirk Douglas was “transcendently generous to St. Lawrence University and remained committed to his alma mater throughout many decades.” He graduated from St. Lawrence University in 1939, and the University awarded him an honorary degree in 1958. At the beginning of his higher educational career, he had ambition but no funds.
Kirk said he only had $164 he could put toward tuition. He was in line at the Salvation Army for a free turkey meal. He talked his way into the Dean’s office at the University and received a loan, which he paid back by working part-time as a gardener and janitor. He later provided close to $8 million dollars to fund the Kirk Douglas Scholarship to promote diversity on campus by giving awards to underrepresented students who excel academically. In 2014, St. Lawrence University named its newest building and residential facility Kirk Douglas Hall. The residence hall also includes the popular Spartacus Café.
Kirk and his wife Anne founded the Douglas Foundation in 1964. It is one of the entertainment industry’s largest and oldest private philanthropic institutions. It is committed to helping those who might not otherwise be able to help themselves. It also focuses on developing new opportunities for the children of the future. The Douglas family created the foundation as a way of giving back for their many blessings and to teach their family the lessons they had learned.
Some of the charities Kirk Douglas has supported include St. Lawrence University, American Heart Association, American Stroke Association, Anne Douglas Center for Women, Anne & Kirk Douglas Playground Award, Entertainment Industry Foundation, Los Angeles Mission, PACT, Screen Actors Guild Foundation and St. Francis Food Pantries and Shelters.
It is gratifying when individuals accumulate wealth and decide to make a life of giving back to society and to a variety of causes. Giving of oneself provides an example for others to follow. When you give back you receive a great deal of joy in return. We will miss Kirk Douglas for all that he did on stage and screen. More importantly, we will remember him for his legacy of philanthropy that will continue through his family for decades to come.
F. Duke Haddad, EdD, CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. In addition, he is also president of Duke Haddad and Associates, LLC, and freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the past 13 years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration, master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University in business administration, with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.