Climbing the Mountain: My Search for Meaning

Climbing the Mountain: My Search for Meaning

4.0 1
by Kirk Douglas

At the age of seventy-four, Kirk Douglas sustained severe back injuries in a helicopter crash in which two other people died. While in the hospital, his identity as a Jew deepened. This newfound faith enriched his relationship with his family. A man long known as demanding and impatient began to listen to others and...See more details below


At the age of seventy-four, Kirk Douglas sustained severe back injuries in a helicopter crash in which two other people died. While in the hospital, his identity as a Jew deepened. This newfound faith enriched his relationship with his family. A man long known as demanding and impatient began to listen to others and...

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
After his near-fatal helicopter crash in 1991, legendary actor Douglas was driven to examine why he, an elderly man, had survived an accident that killed a couple of younger men. This led him back to his Jewish roots, which in turn led him to question his own identity: Was he Kirk Douglas, world-famous movie star, or Issur Danielovitch, the scrappy Jewish kid from Amsterdam, New York? The result is the actor's sixth book (after an autobiography, The Ragman's Son, and four novels), which aspires to be a family history, a spiritual quest and a name-dropping celebrity memoir all at once. Folksy interpretations of the Torah are intermixed with a sort of running apology to his sons for not being a better father, along with brief stories of Douglas's film career and his famous friends. One poignant yet amusing chapter features Douglas weeding out his address book (Brando is dropped, Anthony Quinn stays), while another relates the aging star's frustration at having to audition for a part he didn't get (in Wrestling Ernest Hemingway) and his badly disguised pleasure when the movie flopped. Much of the book is about the actor's amazement at turning 80, and his frustration with his failing physical powers, especially with his stroke last year. Though the various strands of the book never quite come together, its awkwardness is in fact its greatest charm. There's little trace of a ghostwriter here; by turns feisty, sentimental, grouchy, funny, boastful and touchingly vulnerable, the voice throughout is unmistakably that of Kirk Douglas. Photos. 100,000 first printing. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
Having had an eventful decade since his acclaimed The Ragman's Son, it's small wonder that this successful novelist-actor returns to the memoir form.

In the last ten years, Douglas has been in a near-fatal helicopter crash, suffered a stroke, won a long-deserved Oscar (for career achievement), and rediscovered his Jewish roots. The trigger for the deep thinking that this book apparently represents is a midair collision between a helicopter carrying Douglas and Noel Blanc (Mel's son) and a plane whose two occupants were killed. Douglas understandably found himself asking why he and Blanc survived while the two younger men died. This, in turn, led to reflections on other brushes with death. A trip to Israel and a meeting with a dynamic Orthodox rabbi drove the actor into a prolonged, ongoing examination of Judaism, the religion into which he was born but which he had shunned since adolescence. Much of this volume is taken up with his pleasure in rediscovering the stories of the Torah and re-evaluating his own understanding of Jewish thought. Unfortunately, the emotional openness and intensity that made Douglas a great actor and a satisfying memoirist in the earlier volume are ill-suited to the field of intellectual argument. His almost boyish enthusiasm is sometimes entertaining but more often grating, and on the whole, the book does an unintentional disservice to the elegance and subtlety of Jewish theology. The result is often embarrassing in its chauvinism and its cliché-riddled recountings of Bible stories. Douglas also displays—in at least one instance—a slavish adherence to the Likud Party line on recent events in Israel.

Readers looking for more of the candor of The Ragman's Son will find it, but this is a deeply disappointing book.

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Product Details

Cengage Gale
Publication date:
G.K. Hall Large Print Nonfiction Ser.
Product dimensions:
6.41(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.20(d)

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Chapter 2

Ushi had seen the whole thing. She had witnessed David and Lee's fiery death, and she stood frozen by the side of the runway. One of the blades ripped from the helicopter by the impact had flown toward her, crashing into and damaging a parked plane near where she was standing, but she hadn't noticed.

Wanting to help me get out of the wreckage, she ran through the falling fiery debris, not hearing someone screaming, "Get away, it's gonna blow!" She scrambled helplessly to the top of the overturned helicopter to reach the door, the engine still running and leaking fuel. Finally, the warnings penetrated: "Get away, it's gonna blow."

The person screaming at her was a flight mechanic named Darryl who had been working in a nearby hangar. He ran toward the wreckage. Unlike Ushi, who was oblivious to the dangers, Darryl, a former medic who served in Vietnam, knew that the helicopter could blow at any moment. Yet he risked his life to save perfect strangers. Now that's a hero.

Darryl passed Mike, the copilot, who had been thrown free from the wreckage and was crawling away, and reached into the cockpit -- past the bleeding and badly injured Noel -- and turned off the motor.

Atop the helicopter Ushi looked down into the carcass of the passenger compartment. She could see me huddled in a heap at the bottom, one side of my face covered with blood. Her first thought was that I was dead.

Often, when I am asked about the accident today, people want to know what I experienced at that moment. Did I see a long tunnel with a blazing white light at the other end? Sorry, I saw and heard nothing. If it was there, I missed the show.

They tell me that within minutes policemen, firemen and ambulances converged, and that I was moaning, "My back, my back." Fearing a spine injury, the firemen had to strap me to a backboard before they could lift me out of the wreckage. In such a small space, they had to lower one of their buddies upside down, holding him by the legs so that he could strap me up properly.

While they were working on this awkward task, Ushi called my wife.

Anne was in her office finishing up her work. We had a dinner date with friends that night, and she still had to have her hair and nails done. The phone rang.

"Don't worry, Anne," Ushi reported breathlessly. "There was a helicopter crash, but Kirk is all right. He just has some cuts on his face and probably a couple ribs are broken."

To Ushi, what she was saying was great news. Only minutes before she thought I was dead. In comparison, a few broken ribs were nothing.

Meanwhile, Anne pictured me as a bleeding and broken mess. She was in shock but pulled herself together and called our son Peter and Eric. She didn't want them to hear it from the new media. And, sure enough, as she was talking to the boys, TV and newspaper reporters were already calling on the other line.

Peter and Eric quickly met her at the office, where the prepared to drive up to Santa Paula, a two-hour ride. Panic-stricken, Peter called the police to ask for an escort to get the more quickly. He was told that would not help -- rush hour had started, and traffic north of Los Angeles was already bumper to bumper. At the same airport where our helicopter had been scheduled to land, he got a helicopter to fly the three of them to the Santa Paula Memorial Hospital.

I have no remembrance of being pulled out of the wreckage put in an ambulance and brought to the emergency room. I have no recollection of X rays, CAT scans and the doctors' examinations. They tell me that when the radiologist said, "We have to roll you over," I muttered, "I don't think I'm gonna like it," and the people in the emergency room laughed. But I don't remember any of that.

The first thing I do remember is looking up and seeing my wife's eyes staring at me. This was three hours later. I have no memory of the time in between, even though they tell me I was fully conscious.

The next thing I remember was that they wheeled me in a gurney and put me in a helicopter -- just what I needed, another ride in a helicopter! But Anne wanted to move me to our hospital near Beverly Hills, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Anne and Eric came with me, along with a young woman doctor. I couldn't have been that bad off -- I remember that she was very pretty.

I don't know how they got me into intensive care at Cedars. Vaguely, I was aware of flashbulbs going off -- the media were doing their job. Then a blur of more X rays, tests, CAT scans. And finally I was left alone in my room.

Now the medication was wearing off and the pain was growing stronger. My back hurt like hell. I couldn't move in any direction. Trying to lift up my head was agonizing. I just lay there, feeling sorry for myself.

And then the young woman doctor told me off. "You are lucky, Kirk. Pain means you're not paralyzed. Be happy you can feel things." Before I could react, she added, "The people in the plane are dead."

That's how I found out that David and Lee had died. For the first time I heard their names. Somewhere out there, not too many miles from where I lay, the lives of people who loved then were forever changed . . . and now mine had as well.

Copyright © 1997 by The Bryna Company

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