I worked for Michael Douglas (supposedly running his film production company, but that’s a whole other story) for four years during his heyday in the late 1980’s. No matter how difficult he was I was never afraid of him and had great compassion for him. I grew to admire his great intelligence–primitive, emotional, largely untouched by books or schooling. He is a truth seeker and very self perceptive and he is an important and sensitive artist.
A great businessman as well, Michael ran his own public relations campaigns. He invented savvy asides for me to say in order to negotiate for him in making movie deals –acting as his puppet I cost him far less than a lawyer who’d charge upwards of $500 an hour.
He confided many horrendous autobiographical truths.
He was a tortured husband. Torn apart as a small boy by his parents’ divorce, he was paralyzed about ending his dying marriage. I believe he screwed around a lot to keep depression and misery at bay. His name was linked with Sabrina Guinness and an Italian porn star in the National Inquirer. he seduced a good friend of mine largely because she’d slept with his father. Concierges at Los Angeles hotels told tales of young prostitutes–two at a time.
He loved to talk about sex. He particularly loved to upset me by using street words that nobody else I knew ever said or even thought. Like many movie stars he seemed to be starring in a real-life porn movie in his own mind.
As an observant outsider, I think I grew to know him better than nearly anyone who was really in his life. He certainly couldn’t afford to let the women in his life know what I knew.
I’ve written a memoir one chapter of which is about him. It details some of the sad untoward things he did and said to me. When I get my nerve up, I will probably publish it.
I was horrified by Michael’s revelation of his throat cancer on Letterman’s show a few years back. I wept for him. But I silently congratulated Michael on his brilliant PR move. He received an onrush of public sympathy and affection. People accosted him in restaurants to wish him a speedy recovery. He’d turned a disaster into a public love fest.
His recent revelation that oral sex likely caused his throat cancer is perhaps the first false PR step I’ve seen him make. It was of course brave. It does focus public awareness, however briefly, on this possible cause of throat cancer in men.
But despite the Angelina Jolie effect, which I suspect he was striving for, my former boss’s confession has become something of a late night TV joke.
First, he didn’t gauge the creeping feminization of our culture. Men are no longer allowed total impunity in the dark areas of sexual intimacy. When I worked for Michael, for example, the term sexual harassment didn’t exist. And ” stalking” had no sexual connotations.
Michael’s revelation feels a tad smarmy. What about his wife? The woman thought she’d married into international royalty. Instead she has white trash problems— stepson in jail for dealing hard drugs, a child of her own with learning difficulties. Oy! Now she’s suffering public embarrassment over a husband possibly diseased by sex with other women. I don’t think, as Andrea Peyser hints, that he caught the STD from his wife. But she has to be feeling shame and even regret.
I hope Michael continues to be in good health. I hope this major American artist can find peace of mind.