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Breaking the Mold

Actor and producer Michael Douglas defies leading-man expectations with bold creative choices.
Alysse Minkoff
From the Print Edition:
Michael Douglas, May/Jun 98

(continued from page 4)

"I find it really inspirational that at this point in his life he continues to grow. He's somebody who doesn't look to retirement," Michael says. "For him retirement would be dying, and he has a need to continue to grow and to live his life. I'm just so proud of him. Some people just kind of switch it off as they get older, and he has almost an obsession with keeping alive by being active. He's a very cool man. A full and complete man. He's at peace with himself and that peace is admirable to watch evolve. Over his lifetime he has developed all the other parts of his life and now, at 81, he is nurturing his spirituality.

"My own success gives my father nachas [happiness], pride," Michael adds, "and gives him an additional sense of immortality. And, just as I have been able to learn from his mistakes, I hope to learn from his successes. The thing that impresses me the most about my dad, is here is a man who has had a stroke. Part of his therapy is speech therapy, so he practices reading the Torah, which enhances who he is as a person. Then, he studies the Talmud with a rabbi, to have a better understanding of who he is as a Jew. And then he writes a book about the whole experience, so other people can benefit from his journey. It's like killing three birds with one stone. And of all my father's books, Climbing the Mountain is really my favorite. It's about rediscovering spirituality, and it is that part of my father that continually impresses me. He is an inspiration because he continues to grow. And my mother is the same way. It's beautiful to see people in their 70s and 80s who are still looking for their next job. They love what they are doing."

This past year, Michael Douglas's divorce from his wife of 19 years, Diandra, became final, ending one phase of his life and beginning another. It is obvious that he has closely examined the factors that led to the dissolution of his marriage.

"For me, having a famous and successful father and having entered the same field, I identified success in my work. I had two careers, which I pursued strongly and actively. Once you've achieved a certain amount of success, you are used to a certain level of control in other areas of your life. And that doesn't always work well in an intimate relationship," he admits. "My work took first priority, even beyond my marriage, when I was working. The difference is that when I wasn't working, I could focus on my family; but when I was working there was no way to balance them. Most people have an eight-hour job and they go home, and their family and their life are the most important part of their world. I got comfortable working. I got acknowledgment and approval from working. And in relationships you don't get a medal for being a good partner each week. So my definition of success at this point in my life is much different than it was 20 years ago."

It is clear that the end of his marriage was a painful, if inevitable, passage for Douglas, and that he isn't going to let an opportunity for growth slip past him. "Divorce is a process. I think whenever you go through the loss of a relationship, there is a certain amount of self-analysis involved. I'm fortunate to say that there is still a lot of love with Diandra. We are on very good terms. I would have hated to think that 20 years would go down together and we'd never see or talk with each other.

"I was very lucky growing up; my mother and father divorced amicably and were good friends and still are good friends. My stepfather and mother and father and stepmother used to get together every couple of weeks for dinner, preferably without the kids. They just enjoyed each others' company. That is a very positive image of what a divorce can be, and we were all very lucky.

"In truth, divorce is not about children. What you're talking about is the relationship with your spouse. Therefore, children, at whatever their age, as long as they can see their parents speaking amicably to each other, they're fine. I have no patience for the selfishness of wives and husbands who put their own interests ahead and use their children as weapons. I mean we all know people who do it, and kids are irreparably damaged by this kind of behavior. No matter how old they are."

With this life change comes a new set of priorities. "For me it's a question now of the cultivation of my soul and developing new habits and interests. Now that my marriage is over and my son, Cameron, is an adult, I find this is a really exciting time for me. I don't know where it's going; I'm just part of the excitement. It's a fun time because I don't have anywhere near the personal responsibilities and obligations that I have had the last 20 years. It makes me be more responsible for myself than to others. Sometimes you can hide out behind others and being involved with others."

The obvious question is, will this handsome eligible bachelor ever remarry? "I would love the opportunity to get married again, and we'll see if it comes up. I think ladies make certain assumptions about me, so they get kind of cool, blasé. It's certainly an adjustment learning to be alone over a long period of time, although I'm enjoying it. It's giving me a chance to work on myself. To work on my golf game. To do a lot of skiing. And I'm not really looking for a relationship. That's the nice thing about getting older; you learn to make decisions without desperation. I'm enjoying this time. I'm more comfortable with myself than I have ever been before. With any luck, I'll have the good fortune to be able to give something back, but that's yet to be defined.

"What I see right now for me is a new moment in my life, a new start," Douglas says. "I have an interest now in using my ability of being recognized all over the world to do some things besides simply going out and promoting a movie." He is already involved in several causes that he holds very dear to his heart: the United Nations, nuclear nonproliferation and handgun control.

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