Life Advice from Michael Douglas

Credit: Valery Hache / AFP / Getty Images

This story originally ran in the May 2010 issue of Men's Journal

What adventure most changed your life?

In college I was bodysurfing near Point Conception, California, and got caught in a riptide. I fought it but kept getting pulled out and down until I was exhausted. When I went under, it was all crystalline, angels singing, the whole cliché — and I relaxed. Of course, that’s what I needed to do, because then the tide swept me even farther out and I was able to get back to the surface. As I caught my breath, a seal popped up next to me. Up close, they don’t look so cute — more like big rats. For all I knew they were carnivorous. I drifted about a half-mile and finally was able to swim back in. That experience taught me a bit about mortality and that sometimes you have to pace yourself.

What should every man know about money?

There’s a great line from Wall Street 2: “Money is a bitch who never sleeps, and if you don’t keep an eye on her, then you wake up in the morning and she’s gone.”

What should every man know about women?

They don’t play fair. That’s a learned survival skill, though, because it’s not as if women have had a whole lot of choices through the generations. I’m watching this in my six-year-old. She used to have no problem with clothes; now she changes outfits three times a day. And she’s become selective with her cuddling; maybe she knows how much Daddy wants a big hug. They have a lot of power, those girls.

What’s the best way to impress a woman?

By ignoring her.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

My father has always loved giving advice. He told me to make the best effort I can and then — fuck it.

What article of clothing should every man own?

Gucci. A lightweight rainproof parka.

What hidden skills do you have?

Well, I can still disassemble and rebuild a flathead engine. I was a member of the Downshifters Hot Rod Club in Connecticut in the ’50s and early ’60s and protected my youth from getting into more serious trouble by building hot rods and racing a Class C dragster. I drove a ’44 Ford convertible and then a ’46 Mercury with a Model A spring in the back that we called the Ruptured Duck. I think our top speed was 134 miles per hour. We also operated a little Midnight Auto Supply, meaning that was the time of day we found parts we needed.

What skill should every man possess?

To see the absurdity of any situation, which ultimately allows you to solve it.

Do you have a scar that tells a story?

I had a serious ski accident. Did the triple — severed the meniscus, the patella, and the anterior cruciate in my left knee. I skied with a big old brace for years. Then I started to limp, so I went in last spring and had my knee replaced. It’s made a big difference. Been great for my golf game.

When is it okay for a man to lie?

Just about anytime, if it makes life more interesting and you’re not hurting anyone.

Who’s the toughest guy you know?

My father is right up there. He’s 93, has had a stroke, and has a pacemaker. This is a guy who was in a helicopter crash that killed two people when he was 74. I think that made him question why he lived and brought him back to his Jewish roots. He started studying with a rabbi, and he’s more of a complete man than he was before.

How should a man handle getting older?

With a giggle, hopefully. You’ve got to find a passion, even if it shocks you and breaks your normal patterns of watching football all weekend. Have you ever thought you wanted to sail? Or learn Spanish?

What’s the best survival skill you know?

I survived a Colorado whiteout once by making a pine-bough lean-to that keeps in the heat and won’t buckle from the snow. Find a rock ledge or a long, low tree branch — something solid. Collect a lot of pine boughs. Put some of them on the ground as a bed. Starting on the side exposed to the wind, pile on boughs at a slant for your roof, elevated by the rock ledge or branch. Interweaving is secondary. When you’re done, crawl in.