2009: Michael Douglas
37th AFI Life Achievement Award

The American Film Institute's Board of Trustees selected Michael Douglas to receive the 37th AFI Life Achievement Award. The award was presented to to Douglas at a gala tribute in Los Angeles on June 11, 2009.

The Achievement Of Michael Douglas

Michael Douglas may have been born into Hollywood royalty, but he has built a singular career as a producer and actor one step at a time.

A self-proclaimed late bloomer, Douglas soaked up lessons in moviemaking and acting early, watching his legendary father Kirk and actress mother Diana, visiting his father's sets during school breaks and studying drama in college. In his thirties, he caught the public's attention as the second lead to veteran Karl Malden in the hit television series THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO. With Malden as mentor, Douglas absorbed lessons in work ethic, story structure, editing and collaborating with producers and directors to best serve the material.

When the opportunity came to develop a story he felt passionately about, he took a chance at producing. The property was Ken Kesey's ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, the bestselling novel that his father had been trying to make into a movie for nearly a decade. With it he launched a producing career that has been remarkable for its timely choices and extraordinary rate of success.

Since sweeping the Academy Awards with producing partner Saul Zaentz in 1975, the through line in Douglas's long, productive life in the movies has been his instinct for subjects that capture the zeitgeist while entertaining a global audience. Movies like ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, THE CHINA SYNDROME, FATAL ATTRACTION, WALL STREET, BASIC INSTINCT, TRAFFIC and FALLING DOWN not only engendered public debate at the times of their release, but they remain an enduring part of America's cultural legacy — reminding us forever of who we were at a specific moment in time.

As an actor, Michael Douglas has created a rogue's gallery of imperfect men who grapple with the issues of our times while slyly delighting audiences. "Who is better?" asks screenwriter William Goldman. "My answer is: at what he does, no one. And just what does Douglas play so brilliantly? The flawed, contemporary American male."

In 1987, already in his forties, Douglas discovered his strength as an actor in two iconic roles. As the philandering husband who underestimates the costs of a casual affair in FATAL ATTRACTION, he played a "man who is weak, culpable, morally indolent, compromised, and greedy for illicit sensation," said historian David Thomas. And in WALL STREET, as rapacious tycoon Gordon Gekko, he crafted a villain who will reverberate as long as ambitious young men and women want to believe that "greed, for lack of a better word, is good."

Since then, Douglas has grown into one of America's great character actors. He has mined the darker side of modern manhood in such diverse roles as D-Fens, the befuddled defense worker in FALLING DOWN, and Grady Tripp, the pot-smoking college professor in a pink bathrobe in WONDER BOYS. He has played comedy and drama with equal flair, transforming himself into a very human American president, a California mad man and a number of top professional men whose fine tailoring can't save them from big trouble. In his sixties, Douglas remains a force — about to bring back Gekko in the timely, much-anticipated WALL STREET 2.

In the tradition of his family, Michael Douglas is a generous philanthropist, advocating for nuclear disarmament on the board of Ploughshares Fund and as a United Nations Messenger of Peace. The Michael Douglas & Friends Celebrity Golf Event has supported the Motion Picture & Television Fund for 10 years. He supports his alma mater, UC Santa Barbara, where he helped fund the Center for Film, Television and New Media and established the Michael Douglas Foundation Visiting Artists Program for the Department of Theater and Dance. He donated funds to help save 70 acres of coastal bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean from development, creating a public park in Santa Barbara. And in 1999, he established the Michael Douglas Pediatric Brain Tumor Research Center at UC San Francisco.

As AFI honors Michael Douglas for his achievements in film, he takes great pride in his family, savoring time with wife Catherine Zeta-Jones and their children Dylan and Carys, embracing ties with father Kirk and son Cameron, and continuing to balance the joys of acting with the responsibilities of producing movies that reflect the times in which we live.


About Michael Douglas

Perhaps no actor in Hollywood has made such a successful career out of playing vulnerable men of dubious morality. Not exactly villainous but certainly flawed, Douglas's screen personas have turned these complexities into popular leading men. And, as a producer, he has also been highly successful.

Born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, on September 25, 1944, Douglas entered the entertainment profession in the mid-1960s. It wasn't long before he made a name for himself starring in the popular television series THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO with Karl Malden, and appearing in such films as ADAM AT SIX A.M. (1970), SUMMERTREE (1971) and NAPOLEON AND SAMANTHA (1972).

It was a film Douglas produced, however, that cemented his standing in the film community. Adapting Ken Kesey's counter-culture novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest for the screen was considered a difficult task, but Douglas turned it into a resounding smash, with the film taking home the top five Oscars — Best Picture, Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Actress (Louise Fletcher), Best Director (Milos Forman) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman). ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1975) marked the beginning of a producing career that would prove at times to be as equally rewarding as his acting career.

Douglas followed with starring roles in films showcasing strong women, including the thriller COMA (1978) co-starring Genevieve Bujold and IT'S MY TURN (1980) co-starring Jill Clayburgh.

However, Douglas would find his greatest success during this period as a producer. The masterful nuclear accident drama THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979) with Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon, in which Douglas also starred, galvanized the country in the wake of the real-life Three Mile Island incident.

In the 1980s, Douglas's popularity grew. As a producer, he gave director Robert Zemeckis his first big hit with ROMANCING THE STONE (1984), but it was as the old-fashioned adventure film's leading man that he announced himself as a powerful star in his own right. A successful sequel, JEWEL OF THE NILE (1985), reuniting him with costars Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito, followed. Douglas also produced the gentle alien drama, STARMAN (1984).

In 1987, Douglas starred in the year's two most talked-about movies, Adrian Lyne's FATAL ATTRACTION with Glenn Close and Anne Archer and Oliver Stone's WALL STREET with Charlie Sheen. The former was a phenomenon, instantly transforming Douglas into the kind of flawed hero Hollywood loves to embrace. In WALL STREET, Douglas embodied the decade's greed as financial tyrant Gordon Gekko, a role for which he won the Best Actor Academy Award. In Ridley Scott's BLACK RAIN (1989), Douglas played a corrupt cop asked to save the day, while in the black comedy THE WAR OF THE ROSES he re-teamed with his ROMANCING THE STONE co-star Kathleen Turner as well as Danny DeVito, who directed. Douglas showed once again that ambiguity and dark subjects could find an audience.

Paul Verhoeven's BASIC INSTINCT, the sexually charged thriller that turned Sharon Stone into a movie star, broke established taboos about Hollywood entertainment. Douglas's portrayal of a disgruntled aerospace worker in FALLING DOWN (1993) was one of the actor's most challenging roles, as well as one of his most controversial. Inflamed emotions followed with the hit adaptation of Michael Crichton's bestselling novel DISCLOSURE (1994), directed by Barry Levinson, in which Douglas's character accuses a woman (Demi Moore) of sexual harassment.

Douglas went on to play the president of the United States in Rob Reiner's THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT, a film that combined old-fashioned entertainment with populist politics, as he romanced lobbyist Annette Bening. In 1996, he returned to darker subject matter, appearing in the period adventure THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS with Val Kilmer.

In 1997, Douglas produced the hugely popular FACE/OFF, directed by John Woo and starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage. That year, he also starred in the complex thriller THE GAME, directed by David Fincher. In 1999, he narrated the Oscar-winning documentary ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER, produced by Arthur Cohn and Kevin MacDonald, and starred in WONDER BOYS with Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Robert Downey, Jr., and Katie Holmes, directed by Curtis Hanson.

In 2000, Douglas starred in Steven Soderbergh's widely acclaimed TRAFFIC, playing a conservative judge in America's escalating war on drugs. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. In 2003, Douglas starred in THE IN-LAWS with Albert Brooks, based on the original 1979 film directed by Arthur Hiller, as well as IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY, the story of a dysfunctional New York family and their attempts at reconciliation. In 2006, he starred in THE SENTINEL, as well as YOU, ME AND DUPREE. KING OF CALIFORNIA, a comedic treasure hunt co-starring Evan Rachel Wood and directed by Michael Cahill, opened in September 2007.

Douglas will soon be seen in Peter Hyams's courtroom thriller BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT and Mark Waters's comedy GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST with Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner.

Read press release


NOTE: Due to licensing restrictions, the telecasts of the AFI Life Achievement Award Tribute are currently not available for distribution or purchase.

AFI Membership