Mickey Rourke: Actor, Fighter, Icon

Mickey Rourke Biography and Filmography
Jon Favreau, Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts attend Mickey Rourke’s Hand and Footprint Ceremony held at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Relativity Media)

By James Colt Harrison

Mickey Rourke is back on the screen in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, making his return to acting after appearances in 2010’s Iron Man 2 and The Expendables. He also recently cropped up in a little seen film made in Indonesia called Java Heat (which didn’t screen for critics).

His big year was 2008 when he starred in the very interesting, critically acclaimed film The Wrestler. For his performance he won the British version of the Academy Award®: the BAFTA. He also picked up a Golden Globe and an Independent Spirit Award. To top it all off, he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar®.

No doubt he’s a good actor, but he is totally unconventional in his approach to filmmaking. Best of all he’s a fantastically inventive actor and proved that once again in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler.

Mickey Rourke Biography and Filmography
Marisa Tomei and Mickey Rourke in ‘The Wrestler’ (Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

Born September 16, 1952 in Schenectady, New York, Rourke was a handsome kid and gravitated toward the sports world when he attended Miami Beach Senior High. He took a liking to boxing and at age 12 won his first boxing match. Rourke has loved the world of boxing his entire life and even made it his sole profession for a time when he left acting in the 1990s.

Rourke appeared in only one school play in Miami Beach, but he was later persuaded by a friend to try out for a role in Deathwatch. He got the part and also caught the acting bug. His sister helped finance him to get to New York where he enrolled in The Actor’s Studio, the previous home of Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe.

The next step for the young actor was for him to join the movies. Steven Spielberg cast him in a small part in the World War II drama 1941. In between parts on television shows he did a good bit in Body Heat as an arsonist. Rourke was also part of the small budgeted hit picture Diner with up and coming stars Paul Reiser, Kevin Bacon, Tim Daly, Steve Guttenberg, and Daniel Stern. After getting a nod as Best Supporting Actor from the National Society of Film Critics, Rourke went on to star in Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish. Now on a roll in motion pictures, Rourke sizzled on the screen with Kim Basinger in 9 ½ weeks and became a sex symbol in the mid-1980s.

By 1987 he was appearing in controversial films such as Angel Heart with young Lisa Bonet. Europeans especially loved the rawness of the film and the explicit sex scenes. The film won several awards.

Rourke’s personal life and acting career took a dark turn in the early 1990s. He turned down many good films including Pulp Fiction and Top Gun. His romantic life was a shambles. He decided that he had to return to the boxing ring in 1991 to prove himself. He did pretty well, winning many fights around the world. Unfortunately, his pretty-boy face took a beating and he ended up getting a botched facial surgery job. In a way, it was sad that his looks were gone but it did give him an entirely new persona which allows him to play gruff, downtrodden characters with more authenticity.

The late ’90s seem to leave him bitter and disillusioned. He felt he was all washed up. He made a couple of films that were flops, such as Double Team (1997) with Jean-Claude Van Damme. After Rourke played several small parts in small films, director Robert Rodriguez remembered him and wanted Rourke for his next picture. Rodriguez’ movie turned out to be the highly stylized and startling film Sin City in 2005. It was a huge hit and Rourke swept up the awards from the Chicago Film Critics, the IFTA, and the Online Film Critics Society, therefore putting him back on top again.

Mickey Rourke is now riding the crest of a successful career wave once again. As he summed up his career, “My best work is still ahead of me.”

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