Michael Douglas, an American Icon

Actor Michael Douglas and his wife, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones.

It’s always good to see Michael Douglas, but this time was a triumph. It was his first appearance after a grueling fight for his life. Accompanied by his gorgeous wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Douglas was honored by the Palm Springs International Film Festival with the Icon Award, a week after news broke that he was cancer-free.

Looking lean, but healthy, there was pep in his step. He’s been taking piano lessons for his next film, Liberace.

“We’re doing it in June, right here in Palm Springs (and Vegas),” Douglas said. “Jerry Weintraub is on board. Matt Damon is my partner in crime.”

He kidded, “I am working on lifting my hands with the rings!”

Douglas first met Liberace in Palm Springs at his Dad’s (Kirk Douglas) home. (He also met Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin at the same time.)

As a two-time Oscar winner spanning over four decades, (Best Producer for One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Best Actor for Wall Street), he’s witnessed industry changes.

“There wasn’t this personal campaigning that exists now,” Douglas said. “Cuckoo’s Nest was an independent film and financed without a domestic distributor. United Artists was our last stop.

“It was hard to fill out the Oscar ballot this year and find 10 pictures. I found about six.”

Douglas had two films released last year – a sequel to Wall Street (Money Never Sleeps) and Solitary Man).

“I’m so proud of Solitary Man. It was made on a really tight budget, set for 32 days, but cut to 27,” he said. “The reality is, unless there is a distributor, it’ll go directly to DVD. You’re running parallel with cable, which pays as much, but you have a guaranteed audience of four to 12 million. I hope that through the Internet there will be companies looking to screen their own line of programming. It may be a few years away.

“In Fatal Attraction and Wall Street, I played a bad guy. Because the films were successful, those were the kind of parts that I was offered. Basic Instinct and Perfect Murder followed.”

Douglas is most proud of Falling Down and The War of the Roses.

“I like comedy. And I would like to get away from the sex addiction roles!”

Besides his dad, he credits his Streets of San Francisco co-star, Karl Malden as a mentor.

“We shot on location six days a week,” he said. “I did 104 shows with him. He was the type of man who demanded to have next week’s script early. I directed some episodes and learned a lot about producing.”

For the next year, Douglas has scheduled monthly appointments with his doctors.

“My kids were extremely patient throughout the illness,” he said. “They thought it was kind of cool that radiation was like Star Wars! At a celebratory lunch last week, my son Dylan, said ‘Uh oh. You can catch me now!”

Although the family resides in New York, Douglas keeps a home in Bermuda.

“It’s probably one of the only places in the world that allowed us to raise our kids and nurture our marriage.”

Douglas said he would like to one day work with his actress wife.

“Catherine and I would like to do a picture together,” he said. “The history of husbands and wives in films has not been great. I’ll probably be lusting for her; she’ll have a younger lover, who I will have to kill.”

Sue Facter writes about all things A-list. She first met Michael Douglas when interviewing him for USA Today. Follow her on Twitter@TheFacter.

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