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Douglas writes about his ‘Stroke of Luck’

Actor tells how he overcame suicidal impulses

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — "I think I might get the Nobel Prize for medicine," mused Kirk Douglas. "I discovered a cure for depression."

The actor, who turned 85 Dec. 9, was speaking with his customary hyperbole, though the words didn't carry the dynamism of his teeth-flashing movie heyday. His diction is deliberate, blurred but intelligible, the remnant of a stroke five years ago.

Douglas writes about his attack and his recuperation in his eighth book, "My Stroke of Luck."

In an interview at his art-filled home in the upscale heart of Beverly Hills, he told of the suicidal depression that afflicted him when the stroke left him unable to speak: "When I first had my stroke, I went through suicidal impulses. An actor who can't talk! What would he do?"

A cloud of self-pity and helplessness enveloped him. He remembered his pal, Burt Lancaster, who spent his last four years in a speechless state because of a stroke. Douglas had kept the gun he had used in his 1957 film with Lancaster, "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral." He took two bullets out of a box.

"I loaded the gun and looked at it," he writes in his book. "In my mouth or at the temple? I stuck the long barrel of the pistol in my mouth, and it bumped my teeth. 'Ow!' It sent shivers through my teeth and I pulled the gun out. I began to laugh. A toothache delayed my death. I laughed hysterically."

He commented: "Then I realized (it was) egocentricity. You're so involved with yourself. 'Woe is me!' But you can reach out and try to think of other people. That's why I admire Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox, because they have tried to do something for people with the disabilities the two of them have. I tried to do that, and it helped."

Douglas counsels stroke victims and their families and speaks to gatherings of doctors. When his wife, Anne, read about the poor condition of school playgrounds in Los Angeles, the couple formed a group that has rebuilt and re-equipped 170 of them. They also founded two playgrounds in Israel. He and Anne funded an Alzheimer's wing at the Motion Picture House and Hospital.

Dr. Bruce Dobkin, professor of neurology at the University of California at Los Angeles and director of the UCLA Neuralgic Rehabilitation and Research Program, remarked that Douglas' prescription for fellow stroke victims to get active "is terrific advice. It turns out that 65-70 percent of people who suffer a stroke become more or less socially isolated, even those who are not profoundly affected.

"By being out in front of your family and your community and trying to participate lessens that social isolation and keeps people from becoming depressed."

His face craggier but still handsome, his milk-white hair flowing to his shoulders, Douglas could pass for a biblical prophet. Except for his speech and his deliberate movement, you would scarcely know he is an 85-year-old stroke victim who has been through a helicopter crash, spinal surgery and a pacemaker implant.

He had just come from the gym where he had worked with weights and done aerobics. Later that day, he planned to play golf— 9 holes only, 18 would be too tiring, he explained.

"My Stroke of Luck," published by William Morrow, is a slender, chatty book that deals with the frightening results of Douglas' stroke and the struggles of his recovery. His calendar is filled with speeches and appearances. He has flown to Israel and Jordan, and to Germany for a lifetime achievement award at the Berlin Film Festival. He plans a

book promotion tour in the East and then in England, France, Germany and perhaps Italy.

The onset of the stroke happened when Douglas, who had recently recovered from a back operation, was having a manicure at home.

"It was as if a pointed object had drawn a line from my temple, made a half-circle on my cheek, and stopped," he wrote. "I felt no pain, but when I tried to explain it to Rose, my manicurist, I couldn't talk. What came out was gibberish. . . . Rose, who had been a nurse in Israel, knew immediately that I was having a stroke."

He hopes to appear this year in a film with his son, Michael, and grandson, Cameron.

"It's about a dysfunctional family," Douglas said. "I want to do it even if I hate it."