For a scion of Hollywood royalty, Michael Douglas has always had an unlikely ability to capture the experience of an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances. He’s a regular sleaze in Fatal Attraction, who happens to pick the rabbit-stewing Glenn Close for his adulterous fling. He’s nothing but a regular cop in Basic Instinct, albeit one whose interrogation technique produces a surprising result. He’s overwhelmed by the pressures of city life in Falling Down. But which of us can honestly say we haven’t wanted to shout at a golfer just once? Even his Gordon Gekko is a typical Wall Street sociopath.
He’s now turned his debilitating brush with cancer into an Everyman story. Was it the Hollywood lifestyle which caused it — an endless supply of booze and drugs? Apparently not: Douglas’ cancer was caused by HPV (the same virus which causes some cervical cancers). In other words, he seems to have got cancer from having been a considerate lover. And perhaps a promiscuous one. Douglas was rumoured to have been treated for sex addiction in his youth, though he later denied it. Still, it’s hard to imagine he was short of potential sexual partners after playing Jack Colton in Romancing The Stone.
There’s something so neat about this interpretation of events: the guy was rich and handsome and used to sleep around, so this was clearly the payback he should have expected. Except not. 90% of sexually active over-25s have been exposed to HPV, and he vast majority of them don’t go on to develop throat cancer. Douglas — never one to miss a headline with a film to sell - told one reporter that while cunnilingus had caused his cancer, it was also the best cure for it. Best, in terms of being more fun than chemotherapy? Perhaps not quite as medically effective, though you can’t blame a guy for trying.
While doctors have expressed polite disbelief that Catherine Zeta-Jones may have a magical, cancer-curing vagina (though surely we all believe that at some level. Everything about her is magical), Michael Douglas knows better. But then, all’s fair in love and film-promotion.
He’s currently flogging Behind The Candelabra, Steven Soderbergh’s biopic of Liberace. Douglas’ star turn as the fading Vegas legend will win him a host of awards: he doesn’t just play Liberace in all his glitzy glory, but bald and ageing as he steps out of the shower, post-surgery as his scars fade and, finally, shrivelled and weak as he dies of AIDS-related complications. He manages to capture the intrinsic ridiculousness of the man, but never at the expense of his humanity.
So what better way to highlight the fact that Michael Douglas, one of Hollywood’s great (heterosexual) leading men, was taking on the role of one of the great gay figureheads of the 20th century, genital warts and all, than to announce that he too has suffered from the consequences of unprotected sex? Sexually-transmitted disease has rarely been discussed by so many beautiful people, wearing so much sparkle. He’s ensuring that a few more people don’t die of ignorance, as the safe sex adverts used to say.