The Legend: Mickey Rourke
Today, Mickey Rourke is known to most people as the man who made a comeback in Hollywood with the films Sin City (2005) and The Wrestler (2008). But in order to make a comeback, it is obvious that you have to aspire to something in the first place. His early career is something of a mystery to many modern movie buffs though, and is of course something we will try to shine a light on here in this Legend feature, as well as his later work.
Philip Andre „Mickey“ Rourke Jr. was born September 16, 1952 in New York. His parents got divorced when he was 6 years old and then Mickey moved to Miami Beach, Florida with his mother and 2 siblings. There his mother married a local police officer and so he was raised there, taking an interest in sports from an early age, most notably boxing. When he retired from amateur boxing in 1971 he had already compiled a record of 20 wins and 6 defeats. Shortly thereafter Rourke was bitten by the acting bug when he appeared in a play directed by his friend.
His first film role was in a movie by Steven Spielberg (I can think of worse debuts), a small role in the comedy 1941. After appearing in Michael Cimino‘s notorious financial disaster Heaven‘s Gate, Rourke first raised eyebrows in his role as the arsonist Teddy Lewis in the adultery drama thriller Body Heat. He then rose to further fame when he portrayed fly smooth talker “Boogie” in Diner, written and directed by Barry Levinson. His performance opposite future stars like Kevin Bacon and Daniel Stern even earned him 2 awards. Francis Ford Coppola‘s black and white teen drama Rumble Fish helped display Rourke‘s talent even further, as he played the protagonist‘s (Matt Dillon) low-key, philosophical, protective, colour blind older brother, called simply The Motorcycle Boy.
Notable performances by Rourke in the mid- or late eighties include the films The Pope of Greenwich Village, Year of the Dragon, 9½ weeks, Angel Heart and Barfly. Shortly thereafter he was twice nominated for a Razzie Award, something surely no actor wants on his resumé. When 1990 came along Rourke had begun to question his talent and acting career, and after appearing in White Sands and the well known Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, he decided to temporarily retire and give himself the personal challenge of becoming a professional boxer. At 40 years of age, many considered him to be too old to succeed in the world of sports, but when he called it quits on his pro boxing career in 1995 he was undefeated with a record of 6 wins and 2 draws. He suffered several injuries during this brief career as a pugilist and had to undergo plastic surgery to reshape some of his facial features, resulting in the rough look he is known for today.
When returning to acting in the mid-nineties, Rourke seemed to be offered only supporting roles, such as in The Rainmaker, or leading roles in TV- or B-movies like Double Team, a buddy-type action flick where he is up against the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman. I am sorry to say that the sequel Another 9½ Weeks even earns him an appearance on IMDb‘s bottom 100-list, as it is currently no. 99. Rourke later expressed he considered himself a “has-been” after this poor period and was lacking in confidence.
Supporting roles in Once Upon a Time in Mexico by Robert Rodriguez and Man on Fire by Tony Scott paved the way for bigger roles in each directors‘ next project. And so Rourke did a decent job as a bounty hounter in Domino but he amazed audiences and critics alike as the stone cold hardman Marv in the comic book action film Sin City. For that performance, he was presented with 4 awards as well as being named “Man of the Year” by Total Film Magazine. A full-on Hollywood comeback was established and all that was needed now was a decent follow-up. Fortunately, Darren Aronofsky saw Mickey Rourke as a perfect fit for his drama, The Wrestler. There he plays a “has-been” wrestler, who is a social outcast and despite health problems, won‘t be forced into retirement. Arguably Rourke‘s greatest thespian work to date, his epic performance in The Wrestler earned him over a dozen awards and even saw him nominated for an Oscar, that eventually went to Sean Penn.
Since then, notable roles include the super villain Whiplash in box-office hit Iron Man 2, tattoo artist Tool in Sylvester Stallone‘s testosterone bomb, The Expendables, and King Hyperion in ancient war epic The Immortals. Mickey Rourke was given a rare second chance in Hollywood and through great effort managed to take it. But a rough journey it has been.
What is your favourite work of Mickey Rourke? Tell us your opinion.