US Goodwill Ambassador
Mobbed on arrival during a 1963 visit to Brazil, Kirk Douglas was struck as never before by the international impact of his popularity as a movie star. This was reinforced shortly afterward, when he attended a film festival in Colombia as a representative of the United States at Bobby Kennedy’s request.
President John Kennedy, a good friend of Kirk’s, then encouraged him to visit foreign countries to talk about the United States. Kirk responded to his country’s call, and over twenty-five years he, at his own expense and often accompanied by his wife Anne, has visited dozens of countries in the capacity of US Goodwill Ambassador. These trips have frequently been made under the auspices of the US State Department or the US Information Agency (USIA). The message he attempted to convey can be most succinctly stated in his mother Bryna’s words: “America…such a wonderful country!”
The year 1964 was especially active. That winter and spring, Kirk and Anne toured India, Thailand, and the Philippines, following a visit to a divided Berlin whose infamous wall had been constructed shortly before. That autumn, they went to Yugoslavia, where they met one of Kirk’s biggest fans, that country’s ruler Marshall Tito, before continuing to Greece and Turkey.
Kirk’s activities as ambassador-without-portfolio continued throughout several Republican as well as Democratic administrations. In 1981, President Jimmy Carter presented Kirk with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian award, in recognition of these activities.