With the simple power and astonishing candor that made his 1988 autobiography, The Ragman's Son, a number one international bestseller, Kirk Douglas now shares his quest for spirituality and Jewish identity -- and his heroic fight to overcome crippling injuries and a devastating stroke.
On February 13, 1991, at the age of seventy-four, Kirk Douglas, star of such major motion-picture classics as Champion, Spartacus, and Paths of Glory, was in a helicopter crash, in which two people died and he himself sustained severe back injuries. As he lay in the hospital recovering, he kept wondering: Why had two younger men died while he, who had already lived his life fully, survived?
The question drove this son of a Russian-Jewish ragman to a search for his roots and on a long journey of self-discovery -- a quest not only for the meaning of life and his own relationship with God, but for his own identity as a Jew. Through the study of the Bible, Kirk Douglas found a new spirituality and purpose. His newfound faith deeply enriched his relationship with his own children and taught him -- a man who had always been famously demanding and impatient -- to listen to others and, above all, to hear his own inner voice.
Told with warmth, wit, much humor, and deep passion, Climbing the Mountain is inspirational in the very best sense of the word.
After his near-fatal helicopter crash in 1991, legendary actor Douglas was driven to examine why he, an elderly man, had survived an accident that killed a couple of younger men. This led him back to his Jewish roots, which in turn led him to question his own identity: Was he Kirk Douglas, world-famous movie star, or Issur Danielovitch, the scrappy Jewish kid from Amsterdam, New York The result is the actor's sixth book (after an autobiography, The Ragman's Son, and four novels), which aspires to be a family history, a spiritual quest and a name-dropping celebrity memoir all at once. Folksy interpretations of the Torah are intermixed with a sort of running apology to his sons for not being a better father, along with brief stories of Douglas's film career and his famous friends. One poignant yet amusing chapter features Douglas weeding out his address book (Brando is dropped, Anthony Quinn stays), while another relates the aging star's frustration at having to audition for a part he didn't get (in Wrestling Ernest Hemingway) and his badly disguised pleasure when the movie flopped. Much of the book is about the actor's amazement at turning 80, and his frustration with his failing physical powers, especially with his stroke last year. Though the various strands of the book never quite come together, its awkwardness is in fact its greatest charm. There's little trace of a ghostwriter here; by turns feisty, sentimental, grouchy, funny, boastful and touchingly vulnerable, the voice throughout is unmistakably that of Kirk Douglas. Photos. 100,000 first printing. (Sept.) -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Simon & Schuster
October 12, 2000
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Excerpt from Climbing the Mountain by Kirk Douglas
Ushi had seen the whole thing. She had witnessed David and Lee's fiery death, and she stood frozen by the side of the runway. One of the blades ripped from the helicopter by the impact had flown toward her, crashing into and damaging a parked plane near where she was standing, but she hadn't noticed.
Wanting to help me get out of the wreckage, she ran through the falling fiery debris, not hearing someone screaming, "Get away, it's gonna blow!" She scrambled helplessly to the top of the overturned helicopter to reach the door, the engine still running and leaking fuel. Finally, the warnings penetrated: "Get away, it's gonna blow."
The person screaming at her was a flight mechanic named Darryl who had been working in a nearby hangar. He ran toward the wreckage. Unlike Ushi, who was oblivious to the dangers, Darryl, a former medic who served in Vietnam, knew that the helicopter could blow at any moment. Yet he risked his life to save perfect strangers. Now that's a hero.
Darryl passed Mike, the copilot, who had been thrown free from the wreckage and was crawling away, and reached into the cockpit -- past the bleeding and badly injured Noel -- and turned off the motor.
Atop the helicopter Ushi looked down into the carcass of the passenger compartment. She could see me huddled in a heap at the bottom, one side of my face covered with blood. Her first thought was that I was dead.
Often, when I am asked about the accident today, people want to know what I experienced at that moment. Did I see a long tunnel with a blazing white light at the other end? Sorry, I saw and heard nothing. If it was there, I missed the show.
They tell me that within minutes policemen, firemen and ambulances converged, and that I was moaning, "My back, my back." Fearing a spine injury, the firemen had to strap me to a backboard before they could lift me out of the wreckage. In such a small space, they had to lower one of their buddies upside down, holding him by the legs so that he could strap me up properly.