The more I see and hear from Michael Douglas, the more I like the guy. Hearing him speak of his battle with throat cancer truly inspires me. At the least, it sure makes those little things that bring us down seem even littler. I really hope he appears on the “Stand Up To Cancer” telethon tonight!
(Courtesy Of USA Today)
They don’t make ’em like Michael Douglas anymore.
In this age of crass reality upstarts and pampered starlets, he’s a movie star of the old school. And even in his third week of grueling radiation treatments for Stage IV throat cancer, Douglas is a gentleman first, making sure a guest is comfortable on the green sofa in his family room and apologizing repeatedly for being a little off his game after a particularly brutal radiation session this morning.
“I like my odds. I’m not dealing with mortality issues until they tell me, ‘Oops, we have to go back and do surgery’ or something like that,” Douglas says. “The tumor is shrinking. The odds are good.”
He pauses a beat, smiles, and takes a sip of the aloe-infused water he’s drinking to soothe his throat. “I haven’t found God yet.”
There’s no woe-is-me self-pity as Douglas manages to poke fun at his condition.
“There’s never a really great time for cancer, but this is one for the books,” he cracks. “Actually I was doing really good, but today has not been great.”
It has been a doozy of a year for Douglas, 65, full of highs and staggering lows. After little-seen turns in 2009’s “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” and 2007’s “King of California,” he earned positive reviews for playing a sleazy seducer in this year’s intimate drama Solitary Man. And he’ll cap off his year by reprising the role that earned him a best-actor Academy Award in 1988 — that of slick, savvy financial piranha Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” opening Sept. 24.
Yet in April, his son Cameron, 31, was sentenced to five years in prison for heroin possession and conspiring to distribute crystal methamphetamine. And in early August, Douglas was diagnosed with throat cancer.
“Professionally it was great, personally, not so hot,” Douglas says of what he calls a “very nasty” 12 months.
Douglas says he’s upbeat about beating the disease. Right now, he’s mostly staying out of the public eye and focusing on his eight weeks of treatment, which includes chemotherapy and radiation, plus hours spent watching college football and U.S. Open tennis in the spacious Upper West Side apartment he shares with his second wife, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, 40, and kids Carys, 7, and Dylan, 10. His days are as laid-back as possible.
“I have the treatments in the morning. They tend to kind of knock me out till usually the early afternoon. I lie down and take it easy.”
Douglas seems relaxed and comfortable, given the circumstances, on this Thursday afternoon. He’s clad in a loose shirt and jeans, ensconced in an easy chair in the family’s comfortable, cluttered family room. His hair is mussed, and he repeatedly runs his hands through it. There’s a pool table, newspapers and a DVD set of “Mad Men” on the coffee table, photos of the couple’s wedding and babies on display, along with their cumulative Oscars in a case. Dylan, a friendly and gregarious boy, shows off his new pet tortoise, which he named Brody so he can call the animal Bro. Zeta-Jones pops in to say hello and give her husband an emotional boost.
“He’s doing just great,” Zeta-Jones says. “It’s amazing how some days are better than others.”
Those close to him say Douglas remains positive. The actor, says Danny DeVito, Douglas’ frequent co-star and friend for more than four decades, is in “great spirits. It’s been one thing after another for him, it seems, but he’s a very strong guy. He’s always been a guy who’s been able to roll with the punches.”
Amid the trauma, moments of relief
Douglas hopes this latest punch won’t be a knockout. In cases of throat cancer, a Stage IV tumor such as Douglas’ has spread only to nearby lymph nodes and is considered to be curable 50% to 80% of the time.
As with many throat cancer patients, Douglas’ first symptom was a sore throat. Douglas says he went to doctors, had a CAT scan, saw an ear/nose/throat specialist and underwent tests. Eventually, the cancer “reared its ugly head, so to speak,” Douglas says, and doctors were able to get a biopsy.
“I was really upset early on, but I’ve had time to realize that (stuff) happens,” he says. “(Catherine) was frustrated because she knew how many doctors I had gone to earlier this summer when it was bothering me.”
Of course, there’s even an upside to his specific type of cancer, to hear Douglas tell it, at least when it comes to his kids.
“They’re happy I can’t talk that much. Sometimes you say, ‘Daddy’s tired.’ OK, great,” Douglas says. “The kids, yeah, they’ve been fine. I’ve taken them down to the hospital and shown them the whole radiology thing. They’ve watched me actually get zapped.”
He and Zeta-Jones were matter-of-fact with the children from the beginning because they didn’t want Carys and Dylan dealing with whispers at school or innuendo from strangers about their famous father. “I don’t know what else you would do,” Douglas says. “It’s what it is.”
He’s equally open with them about their half-brother Cameron’s prison sentence and has taken the kids to see him at his minimum-security prison camp in Lewisburg, Pa.
“They really missed him, and he missed them. They had a good visit,” Douglas says. “He’s fine. He’s made a couple of big, big mistakes in his life. He’s paid the price. On the other side of it, he’s sober. I really, really enjoy getting back to know him. I’m really hopeful for his future. He’s a wonderful kid. It’s heartbreaking that we lost as many years as we did. Now we can enjoy the conversations we have with each other, rather than ducking and trying to hide.”
Douglas wanted the world to see this week that he, too, was just fine. The actor made a rare and brief public appearance Wednesday to plug “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” attending Thursday’s news conference in New York. Unsurprisingly, he garnered the most applause of the attendees, and seemed relatively relaxed and cheerful — albeit thin — in a casual, button-down shirt and black jeans. Reporters were told not to take photos.
Even in diminished health, Douglas knows how to work a room. He repeatedly found the humor in his condition, joking that because his cancer announcement coincided with the release of “Wall Street” and garnered a ton of press, the studio got to save on its promotional budget.
In the original “Wall Street,” Douglas’ rapacious money wizard Gordon Gekko lived by the motto that “greed is good.” Douglas played, in the words of director Oliver Stone, a “charming reptile.” This time, Douglas’ Gekko is fresh out of prison after serving time for financial shenanigans, estranged from his idealistic daughter (Carey Mulligan) and using her fiancé (Shia LaBeouf) to reconnect with her, for questionable reasons. His new credo, ostensibly? That time is ultimately all you have left.
What does he make of Gekko suddenly facing the reality that life is finite, just when Douglas is doing the same thing?
“The parts catch up with you, I guess,” he says, smiling. “I felt so blessed to have some good material. It’s thin pickings out there, whether you’re getting older or in the prime of your career.”
His allure remains strong on screen. For Josh Brolin, the major draw of “Wall Street” was getting to play Douglas’ smarmy nemesis.
“When Oliver came to me and asked if I wanted to do this part, I asked if I would have a scene with Michael and he said absolutely, I would have a pivotal scene with Michael. I said, ‘That’s what counts for me,’ ” Brolin says. “He’s truly iconic to me in everything that he’s done, in all areas of his life, especially now and how he’s dealing with his cancer. I can’t imagine how vulnerable he must feel right now. He has amazing character. He’s been through a lot of stuff, not just this, but this is massive.”
Diagnosis doesn’t slow him down
Douglas doesn’t seem resentful that his personal life is so out there these days. He accepts that as a celebrity, that’s simply his reality, and says when it came to his cancer, he went public because he had to. He learned about his diagnosis just as the campaign for “Wall Street” was about to kick off.
“An extensive tour has been planned. When I found I had it and when I found out what the program was to be, I thought about it for 24 hours and let (the studio) know. I knew it was going to be out. If there were no picture involved or anything else, I would have gone away,” he says. “Everything else in your life is so public. It’s turned out to be fine.”
Douglas says he’s not particularly driven to work, nor was he ever, despite his impressive credits.
“I haven’t been pushing hard for a few years. I’ve really been enjoying being with Catherine and the kids and doing things here and then,” he says. “I’m always a pretty lazy guy. I love to get passionate and excited to find something to do, but I’m a real hang-out guy, especially with the kids now and golf and traveling.”
That said, Douglas still plans to play Liberace in Steven Soderbergh’s biopic, tentatively slated to start shooting next year and co-starring Matt Damon as Liberace’s lover. He excitedly shows off his copy of Scott Thorson’s “Behind the Candelabra (My Life With Liberace),” the basis for the film. “Matt is all, God bless him, gung-ho,” Douglas says, laughing.
For now, he’s leaning on his family and friends to get him through the next five weeks.
“We have to keep his spirits up,” DeVito says. “He’s still got that jaunty spirit. That gets you through all this kind of stuff.”
Indeed, when he’s in good health, DeVito reveals, Douglas likes to cut loose in unexpected ways. “When you’re with him partying, he likes to take his shoes off and dance. He’s very loose and agile,” DeVito says.
And he’s something of a wanderer. Douglas says he and Zeta-Jones have bounced around the idea of playing tourists.
“(We’d) take off for a year and home-school the kids and just travel all around for a while,” he says.
Douglas is just moving forward and holding steady. Yes, he says, “a lot of stuff came down at once. I was on a roll for a really, really long time. I believe that things all balance out. I’m happy I have the kind of stamina and tenacity to deal with crises. I haven’t had a moment of reflection yet in any of these areas. My son’s incarcerated. I’ve yet to see how his life has turned around. My cancer isn’t (resolved) yet. I feel strong.”