Mickey Rourke rose to fame in the 80s behind a library of classics. A bad boy of the industry, The Diner actor’s scandals had overshadowed his career until a resurgence in the late 2000’s. His life story is one for the ages.
Rourke’s decision to leave acting flipped his life upside down in a handful of ways. For one, it took him away from huge Hollywood checks as he was literally fighting to stay afloat. He was almost completely broke. Rourke claims to have been “paying $500 a month for a one-room apartment with a yard for my dogs. A friend used to give me a couple of hundred dollars a month just to feed myself. I’d be calling up my ex-wife and crying like a baby.”
The Bank Is Open
Mickey Rourke did not go broke overnight, but his poor spending habits certainly accelerated the process. He had a habit of buying expensive cars. Once, he bought six brand new Cadillacs and then gave the cars away because he could. Rourke once bought a $97,000 desert car belonging to the Shah of Iran. The bulletproof car was too heavy to make it to his house in the Hollywood Hills and sold for $20,000 after two months and five drives. That’s $20,000 spent per drive.
A Dog Man
To return to the spotlight, he turned to the only thing that kept him whole – his dogs. He adores small dogs and can frequently be spotted with his chihuahuas. In 2009, Rourke lost “the love of (his) life” when his dog Loki died. He once paid $5,400 to have her flown to the set of Stormbreaker in England. Rourke thanked all his dogs in his Golden Globe acceptance speech saying “when a man’s alone, that’s all you got is your dog.”
Dog Day Afternoon
Mickey Rourke developed quite the reputation for being difficult to work with. He was supposed to star in Luck of the Draw, a mobster film with Dennis Hopper and Ice-T, but saw his work cut short. Rourke stormed off the set when the producers refused to put his pet Chihuahua in the movie. They thought the dog looked too much like the dog from Taco Bell TV commercials. Rourke was let go from the film and replaced with Michael Madsen.
Trained At The Famed Actors Studio
His wild antics might make you think that he is a dog without a leash, but Rourke learned acting at one of the most respected artist organizations in New York, the Actors Studio. The Lee Strasberg-run joint has worked with dozens of well-known names, including Mickey Rourke. He took lessons with Sandra Seacat for six years to work on his craft. Seacat has taught Harvey Keitel, Meg Ryan, Lynda Carter, and Michelle Pfeiffer to name a few.
How He Started His Career
Acting was not the end-all-be-all for Rourke early in life. He was focused on sports, specifically boxing until joining a stage production with a friend. He fell in love with the art and left for New York with the cops on his back. Rourke was wanted for a burglary in Florida, so his sister gave him $400 to head up to the Big Apple. There he got his start with the Actors Studio.
His Face Was Used For Someone Else’s Obituary
Charles Bukowski lived such a wild life that the only person director Barbet Schroeder could cast to play the poet and author was Mickey Rourke, crazy in his own right. Barfly was a modest success starring Rourke as Bukowski and Faye Dunaway as an alcoholic he encounters. When Bukowski died in 1994, the New York Post wrote an obituary for him. The only problem was that they used a photo of Rourke as Bukowski instead of Bukowski himself.
Mickey’s boxing career did not last long but was a refreshing callback to his childhood. As a youngster, Rourke put up an impressive amateur boxing record. He was 27-3 with seventeen of his victories coming by knockout. When he returned to the sport in 1991, no one knew what to think. At 40 years old, he held his own and appeared on the cover of World Boxing magazine. Celebrity bodyguard and Hell’s Angels member Chuck Zito trained him for his fights.
Getting Into His Role
To prepare for his role as Ivan Vanko in Iron Man 2, Rourke took a trip to Russia. Rourke wanted the character to be more than a one-dimensional bad guy, so he visited the Butyrka Prison to get in the head of a Russian ex-convict. Reportedly, Rourke wanted his character to speak half in Russian. In true Rourke form, he trashed Marvel Studios for cutting his most interesting and depth-adding scenes from the final film.
By 2007, Rourke was working to rehab his image. He had made successful appearances in Frank Miller’s Sin City and Tony Scott’s Man On Fire, but his leading man days were still behind him. Rourke found himself back behind a mugshot camera after being pulled over for DUI. The police report said he failed a field sobriety test on the spot then blew a .081 on a breathalyzer. Fortunately, he would sign on to The Wrestler not long after.
Dating His Daughter?
The Mickey Rourke redemption tour peaked with his Oscar-nominated performance in The Wrestler. As Robin Ramzinski/Randy “the Ram” Robinson, Rourke gave a nuanced performance of a struggling former wrestler. Evan Rachel Wood played his estranged daughter Stephanie and saw a lot more of Rourke off the set. The two were rumored to be dating throughout filming and were seen kissing at the SAG awards after party. She was then seen going back to his hotel room. Wood (29) is 35 years younger than Rourke (64).
Mickey The Soda Fountain Operator
Living in Beverly Hills caused Mickey Rourke to get a little homesick for New York. Instead of taking a trip East, Rourke decided to bring a slice of New York to California. With his friend Giuseppe Franco, Rourke opened a candy store and soda fountain. Mickey and Joey’s opened shop in the back of a Beverly Hills shopping plaza and decorated it with Harley Davidson memorabilia. The tiny shop could barely fit three patrons.
A Late Addition
The Wrestler resurrected his deflated career, but Mickey almost did not get the chance to star in the film. Before Rourke was added to the project, Nicholas Cage had signed on. He had already started training with former professional wrestler Afa Anoa’i before he dropped out. Cage claims that he did not feel he had enough time to achieve the bulk to play a former steroid-using wrestler. Director Darren Aronofsky claimed always to want Rourke for the role.
Korean Martial Arts
His prowess as a boxer is well-known, but you might not be aware that Rourke spent half a decade studying martial arts. He worked for six years with Tae-Joon Lee learning the art of Hwa Rang Do, helping him overcome his personal and professional problems. Tae-Joon Lee is the son of Joo-Bang Lee, the founder of the art. Hwa Rang Do started in the 60s in Korea, which eventually made its way to America in the 70s and 80s.
The Brave Younger Brother
When it comes to Mickey Rourke’s family life, only stories about his relationships make the headlines. In 2004, Mickey’s brother Joey was losing a battle with lung cancer. During one October visit, the nurse told him, “Look, I’ve been doing this 30 years. Joey should have left 3 or 4 days ago. Do you know the reason why he’s here?” Mickey acknowledged the miracle that he was still alive, leaned to him and said: “It’s okay to go.” He died within a minute later.
A Soft Side For Boxers
The only thing that could bring down Mickey’s gruff exterior was a visit to Carlos Monzon. Monzon, a former middleweight boxing champion, was in prison in Argentina for killing his lover and Rourke was in Argentina shooting on location. Between their boxing stories and domestic abuse histories, the two had plenty to discuss. Rourke came to the prison with a film crew and filmed the meeting. They sparred briefly until Rourke hit the floor with one punch.
He Almost Worked With Tarantino
Where have we heard this story before? Mickey Rourke does something on set that gets him fired from the project. After turning down Pulp Fiction, it seemed as if Rourke would not have another chance to work with Quentin Tarantino. The Tarantino-directed and written Deathproof segment of the Grindhouse double feature starred Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike but was Rourke’s role for the taking. Before filming, Rourke got in a fight with the crew, and Russell took over the part.
Friends With Tupac
In the mid-90s, Mickey became close friends with his co-star in Bullet, rapper Tupac Shakur. The film came out a month after Tupac was shot to death, but the two formed a bond during filming. Rourke recently came to his deceased friend’s side when DJ Grandmaster Flex said that Tupac did not endure an assassination attempt at Quad studios like he claimed. Rourke said that he was with Tupac and his mother after Tupac was shot five times and survived.
The Wrestler Becomes A Wrestler
A Best Actor nomination made Mickey Rourke in demand. After playing a wrestler in the film, why couldn’t he do it in real life too? In 2009, Rourke was incorporated into a storyline for WWE as a nemesis to professional wrestler Chris Jericho. It culminated with a bout at Wrestlemania, the largest stage for professional wrestling. The two jabbed at each other for months leading up to the fight. He knocked him out and celebrated with WWE legend Ric Flair.
Helping Him Turn It Around
Mickey Rourke’s career turnaround was shocking to many people. He was left for dead in the industry and did not have his beautiful face to back him up anymore. Since reclaiming some of his fame, Rourke has gone out of his way to thank the people that helped him. Outside of his dogs, he attributes his comeback to his agent David Unger, a psychiatrist named Steve, a priest named Father Pete, and his friend Tom Sizemore.
The Human Ashtray
As a young actor, Mickey Rourke tended to star in racier films. In 1986, he starred in 9 1/2 Weeks, a romantic drama about an affair between a Wall Street broker and an art gallery worker. The stunning Kim Basinger starred opposite of Rourke, but does not seem to harbor great feelings towards him. When asked about working with Rourke, Basinger called him “the human ashtray.” His partying and volatile ways did not do well with her.
Boxing was not so kind to Mickey Rourke and his body over the years. Most of his injuries are very common among boxers, such as a broken nose and broken ribs. The abuse he took in the ring also led to some gruesome and less common ailments such as a compressed cheekbone and a split tongue. Somehow he even broke a toe in the ring. In addition, he suffers from short term memory loss, consistent with brain trauma from repetitive hits to the head.
New Face, Same Mickey
After eight professional fights between May 1991 and September 1994, Mickey Rourke hung up his gloves. His slew of injuries had quite the effect on him and forced him to get facial reconstructive surgery. He had five operations on his nose and another on his shattered cheekbone. The result was catastrophic. He became near unrecognizable compared to his younger self. Rourke admits that he chose “the wrong guy” to put his face back together.
An Easy Audition
Coming off his successful parts in Diner and Rumble Fish, it looked like Mickey’s career was heading in the right direction. He hoped that they could lead to more starring roles, but probably did not think it would be so easy to find his next film. After a chance run-in with producer Gene Kirkwood, Rourke expressed his desire to star in his next movie The Pope of Greenwich Village. Kirkwood ecstatically took him to MGM where the studio okayed his casting without an audition.
Training With The Best
As part of his dive back into boxing, Mickey Rourke worked with one of the game’s greatest trainers, Freddie Roach. Roach helped train him for seven fights in total. When Rourke picked up the gloves again in 2014, he contacted Roach about getting him back in fighting form. Roach is best known as the trainer for eight-time champion Manny Pacquiao, and former champions Miguel Cotto, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Amir Khan, and James Toney.
Reconnecting With His Dad
Mickey would have never seen his dad again if the Actors Studio casting director didn’t suggest he find him after 20 years when Rourke was struggling to connect in his scene with a father figure. He went up to a Schenectady White Castle restaurant he used to visit with his dad. Sure enough, he was there, gave Rourke $50 and bought him dinner as they drank together. He returned to NYC the next day for the best audition Actors Studio founder Elia Kazan had seen in 30 years.
Support Of The IRA
In 1989, Rourke shockingly admitted to giving a massive donation to John Doherty’s political asylum campaign. He gave most of his $1.5 million earnings from Francesco to support the Provisional Irish Republican Army member. Doherty was a wanted man by the UK law enforcement for executing a 1980 ambush with an M60 machine gun which killed a British serviceman in Belfast. He then escaped from custody after holding a prison officer hostage following a massive shootout.
Turbulent Relationship With Carre Otis
By 1990, Rourke had solidified himself as a sex symbol, only adding to his resume with the edgy film Wild Orchard. The film received terrible reviews, but Rourke and co-star Carre Otis began dating during filming. The couple’s relationship was never normal. He proposed to her by threatening to kill himself with a sword if she turned him down – and she accepted. They married in 1992, but the marriage was marred by physical and verbal abuse.
A Rough Ending
After enduring two years of abuse from Rourke, Otis finally did something about it and contacted the authorities. He was arrested for spousal abuse in 1994 after hitting and kicking her. On one occasion, Otis told Entertainment Tonight that Rourke held a gun to her head when she refused to go out at night in Miami. She said she didn’t believe he’d pull the trigger but was scared. They would film another movie together but divorced in 1998.
Turned Down Pulp Fiction
Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) was an instant classic. Bruce Willis famously played boxer Butch Coolidge, but almost didn’t have the chance. Tarantino wanted real-life boxer Rourke for the part, but he passed to focus on his boxing career.