Michael Douglas: How I Capitalize on My Celebrity for a Good Cause

9:00 AM PST 08/14/2014 by As told to Tina Daunt
Peggy Sirota
Douglas on the April 2000 cover of George magazine

As Russian tensions heat up, the longtime nuclear disarmament activist Michael Douglas opens up in THR's Philanthropy Issue about staying true to his mission

This story first appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

It sometimes seems that good causes come and go like this year's fashion, and if you're a celebrity, you're naturally asked to contribute money and time. One thing I've discovered is that celebrity never is more of an advantage than when you're committed for the long haul.

That's been my experience over the more than 30 years I've been involved in the effort to rid our world of nuclear weapons. I became interested in 1979, when I produced The China Syndrome. I got an education on the vast arsenals of the U.S. and the Soviets. Those lessons were reinforced when I discovered that the Belarus village where my grandparents had come from was leveled because it was downwind from Chernobyl.

Ever since, I've campaigned against nuclear weapons, recently as a board member of former Senator Sam Nunn's and Ted Turner's Nuclear Threat Initiative and through the U.N., where I serve as a Messenger of Peace. The Cold War's end pushed disarmament down most leaders' agendas. It's a sophisticated issue, which I think is one reason why it is not so hands-on to many people. It's not visceral. It's not like a starving child. We've kept at it, though, and I've been able to capitalize on my celebrity to bring attention. Celebrity gets you access to world leaders.

I picked up on this from my father, Kirk Douglas, who was engaged with the United States Information Agency during the Cold War. He was known all over the world, and on a visit to Yugoslavia, that got him an appointment to see President Josip Tito. Back in his hotel, my father shared an elevator with the new British ambassador, who hadn't been able to get in to see Tito to present his credentials. He asked if he could come along with my father to the meeting. That's celebrity access.

With U.S. and Russian relations getting chillier by the day and talks with Iran stalled, I wonder if I'll live to see the elimination of nuclear weapons. I hesitate to think what it will take to bring more awareness. My dad is 97 and still contributing to his causes, so I'm not giving up hope.

Go here to find out more about the Nuclear Threat Initiative and make a donation.

Read more from THR's Philanthropy Issue here.

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