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Douglas says marriage to Zeta-Jones changed his life
His family now comes first over his career, actor-director tells forum
Sunday, Feb 17, 2008 - 12:08 AM 
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Being a movie star takes an intense drive and a single-minded devotion to oneself and one's craft.

The two-time Oscar-winning actor, producer and director Michael Douglas used to be like that. But eight years ago, he married actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, and his priorities changed.

"My family is first, whatever humanitarian work I can do is second and my career is third," he told a near-sold-out Richmond Forum crowd at the Landmark Theater last night.

Douglas talked as much or more about his political-advocacy work as he did about his storied career. The self-confessed "current-events freak" and friend of the late John Lennon works to control handguns.

"After John's murder, I had to do something. I just wanted to control, not eliminate firearms," he said.

Douglas' other political advocacy came as a direct result of his acting career. He was the producer of the 1979 film "The China Syndrome" and played the third lead, Jane Fonda's cameraman and romantic interest. When the film about a near-devastating nuclear meltdown was first released, it was attacked for being unrealistic.

Twelve days later, an accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear-power plant in Pennsylvania almost duplicated the events in the movie.

"We were appointed advocates by fate," he said.

Now 64, Douglas grew up in the shadow of his father, Kirk Douglas, one of the silver screen's biggest stars. His often-battling parents divorced when he was a boy, and he lived with his mother in New England. His relationship with his famous father was strained during his hippie years and especially when he produced his first movie.

The older Douglas had the rights to the book "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," which he had turned into a Broadway play in which he starred for six months. But his efforts to make it a movie had proved fruitless. Michael Douglas asked to acquire the rights, which his father gave him despite advising him against trying to turn it into a movie.

The resulting 1975 film won the five top Oscars for the first time since 1934. The best picture Oscar went to the producer, Douglas' first. His second Oscar came as an actor playing the epitome of greed, Gordon Gecko, in the 1987 drama "Wall Street."

His big career break came on the television show "The Streets of San Francisco," but Douglas said last night that the biggest break from that show came from working with his co-star.

"Karl Malden was my mentor, and through him, I learned a tremendous amount about a work ethic and tenacity," he said.

But throughout the evening, Douglas spoke most enthusiastically about his famous wife. He allows her to make the decisions about which movies each one should make, he said, because he has already had the experience of being a movie star, and now it's her time.

And he said he is asked, "Is your wife, Catherine, as beautiful in person as she is in the movies?"

"Yes," he said, quite firmly.

Contact Daniel Neman at (804) 649-6408 or


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