After months of radiation and chemotherapy, he wins his battle with throat cancer. Then, his wife checks into a mental health rehabilitation center while his oldest son serves time in federal prison and his ex-wife sues him for millions. This may sound like a film plot, but for Michael Douglas, one of Hollywood's most famous leading men, this is life.
The son of screen legend Kirk Douglas, Michael followed in his famous father's footsteps and began acting in his early 20s. In 1975, he won his first Oscar® for producing One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest—one of Oprah's favorite movies of all time. He's also starred in some of Hollywood's biggest blockbusters, including Romancing the Stone, Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction and Wall Street, which earned him the Oscar for Best Actor in 1987.
Michael's personal life has also played out in the public eye. In 2000, he divorced his wife of 23 years, Diandra, the mother of his eldest son. That same year he married Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is 25 years his junior, and in November 2010, the couple celebrated their 10th anniversary. Together Michael and Catherine have two children, 8-year-old Carys and 10-year-old Dylan.
In 2010, Michael reprised one his most famous roles—Gordon Gekko—in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. After filming this much-anticipated sequel, Michael says he began having health issues.
"I thought [I had] a sore throat," Michael says. "Sometimes when you're acting, you don't project your voice properly ... it felt like maybe that was what it was."
Over time, Michael experienced more painful symptoms. "[The pain] went back into the back of my gum, and it felt kind of sore there. Then it started going up and towards my ear," Michael says.
Michael says he visited a number of ear, nose and throat doctors in New York City, but no one discovered anything abnormal. Then, while traveling through Canada, he went to see another specialist. "I'll never forget," Michael says. "All he did was put a tongue depressor on my tongue. I just looked—I saw the look in his eye. He pulled back, and he looked at me, and I said, 'Well, I guess we're going to need a little biopsy on that.'"
Michael was diagnosed with Stage 4 throat cancer, which doctors treated with aggressive chemotherapy and radiation. Despite the gravity of the situation, Michael says he never doubted that he would live to share his story. "The odds, first of all, were very good at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center [in New York City], in this particular cancer," Michael says. "But, I must say, I didn't go through the whole mortality number."
Over eight grueling weeks, Michael lost 32 pounds, and the treatments took a toll on his body. While many cancer patients worry about losing their hair, Michael says he was more concerned about losing his tongue. "If the radiation didn't work, then they've got to do surgery [on my tongue], and I don't know how many parts there are for silent film actors anymore," Michael says. "Dad did a great job with his stroke of overcoming his speech, but when they take out a good chunk of your tongue, it's a little more difficult."
In January 2011, Michael announced that he was cancer free, but he's not out of the woods yet. "You're a cancer survivor, and you know enough that it can come back," Michael says. "This particular type of cancer—I've got a pretty good record about not coming back...but it can."
Michael says he sees the doctor every month to ensure that he's still in remission, and after three appointments, there are no signs of cancer.
Michael says he's a much different man now than when he was first diagnosed. "I know that I'm much closer to my friends and family," Michael says, holding back tears. "I have a much deeper appreciation of family and friends."
When the news broke that Michael had cancer, he says he was also struck by his fans' response. "For somebody who has no formal religious education—my father's Jewish, my mother's the Church of England—the amount of prayers and support that I received worldwide, I think, truly did have an influence and help in what happened," Michael says. "I was overwhelmed by the love."
After Michael won his battle with cancer, his wife, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, checked in to a mental health facility and sought treatment for bipolar II disorder. "It used to generally be called manic depressive," Michael says. "You have periods of mania or flying high and hyperactivity and euphoria and this and that and bouts of depression. Bipolar II is supposedly not as bad with the mania but still pretty heavy with the depression."
Michael says cancer can be difficult for patients and their spouses to contend with. This is especially true for Michael and Catherine. "I said, 'I've got my oldest son in federal prison. My ex-wife is suing me, and I've got cancer.' It's kind of hard for the wife to say, 'I'm depressed,'" he says. "I think that probably played a big part of it. She's got to be stoic and deal with all the stuff that I'm going through."
Now that Catherine has found balance, Michael says she's doing great. "I think she's relieved that she has a better understanding [of the disorder]," Michael says. "I'm so proud of her for kind of analyzing, taking care of it and getting some help."
Currently, Michael says, Catherine is filming a new movie in New Orleans.
Like every dad, Michael, a father of three, has dreams for his children, 32-year-old Cameron, 10-year-old Dylan and 8-year-old Carys. Those dreams live on despite the fact that Cameron is in prison, serving time for selling meth.
"What were your dreams and what still are your dreams for what can happen with Cameron?" Oprah asks.
"I must say he's in real good positive shape," Michael says. "He's assumed responsibility for what happened. ... I think he's going to be a fine, fine actor, among other things. He's shown those abilities earlier on."
Michael recently visited Cameron and says Oprah came up in conversation. "He's excited I'm doing your show," Michael tells Oprah. "Your show is very popular in the [prison] too."
Although Michael and his children share strong bonds, Michael's relationship with his own father, Kirk, has had its ups and downs. "He was working his butt off in those days [when I was a child], doing five movies a year," Michael says. "He always tried to see us on the holidays, but there was tension. He felt guilty, and he was working and trying to spend time with us. ... But the truth of the matter is, we always got along."
It was a helicopter accident, Michael says, that dramatically changed Kirk's outlook on life in 1991.
"Taking off, they hit an airplane. A student pilot and his instructor were killed instantly, and the helicopter fell 40 feet down," Michael says. "It didn't catch on fire and he lived. He's always sort of wondered, 'How did I survive?' He really dramatically changed his life then. He began studying with a rabbi and studying on the Old Testament. He's become a much more spiritual man."
Like his father, Michael has accomplished much in his 40-plus years in show business, including his Oscar® win for Wall Street. "It was a big one for me because I got an Oscar," Michael says. "When you're second generation, and you're always being compared to your father. It really was a moment of stepping out of his shadow and feeling a confirmation of your own identity as an actor."
When he looks back at his career, Michael says he's most proud of his "good batting average." Some of his favorite films include Falling Down, The War of the Roses and Wonder Boys. Michael is also excited about his latest project—playing legendary showman Liberace alongside Matt Damon, who is set to play Liberace's young lover.
"[I'm excited] not just for all of his flamboyance, which is fun and a chance for the piano and performing, but I have never heard anybody say a bad word about Liberace," he says. "I play a lot of villains, Oprah...lot of bad guys. I'm really looking forward to playing a lovely guy."