mickey rourke
(born 1956)


the last outlaw

kim basinger
faye dunaway
robert de niro

ursula andress
marlon brando
james caan
charlie chaplin
johnny depp
robert duvall
john gielgud
trevor howard
diane keaton
vivien leigh
karl malden
james mason
david niven
al pacino
eva marie saint
rod steiger
tennessee williams


mickey rourke

m i c k e y   r o u r k e  :   b i o g  ]

"It seems a million years ago that Mickey Rourke electrified the screen in the same way as a young Marlon Brando."
- Paul Page

mickey rourke
2pac | kim basinger | faye dunaway | robert de niro

mickey rourke


      A former boxer and product of the Miami streets, Mickey Rourke preferred the company of Hell's Angels to Hollywood starlets, yet, through films as diverse as Rumble Fish and Barfly, in the 80s he became one of the most sought-after actors of his generation. Then it all fell apart...

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    In an age of anti-stars, Mickey Rourke emerged as a super-anti-star; the genuine article. In the late Eighties he became a media obsession in spite of the lack of a hit movie, a famous girlfriend or a flair for ostentation. Indeed, Mickey Rourke flaunted his once-legendary appearance of stubbled chin, greasy hair and rumpled clothes with a carefree nonchalance. While others among Hollywood's heroes promoted an air of street-wisdom - and punch out a photographer or two - Rourke smiled benevolently, chainsmoked a packet of Marlboros. He couldn't escape the glare of his own publicity, but he took it on the chin, like a man with a reserve of machismo to spare.

    Although the star held a fascination for the public (and the paparazzi), Rourke's films had to make do with cult status. He turned down the leads in Beverly Hills Cop (1984) and Top Gun (1986) and opted to work with directors he admired. He wasn't interested in commercial success, yet he commanded over a million dollars a picture. In spite of a reputation to be difficult to work with, film-makers were queueing up for his services. Mickey Rourke was, in short, an anomaly.

    Of Irish-Scottish descent, he was born Philip Rourke in New York in 1956 (1956 seems to be his 'official' age; other sources have put the year of his birth as early as 1950). His parents divorced when he was seven and he moved with his mother to Florida, where he grew up in Miami's treacherous Liberty City district, sharing a bedroom with six brothers. At school he studied poorly and hung out with gangs who did drugs and little else. His aspiration was to be a boxer, but after only four fights (which he won) self-discipline deserted him. A friend asked him to appear in a college production of French writer Jean Genet's Deathwatch; he did, and liked it. At the time he knew little about acting and had barely heard of Steve McQueen or Clint Eastwood.

    Deciding on acting for a career, Rourke borrowed several hundred dollars from his sister and moved to New York - and almost starved. He joined the Actor's Studio and took any job he could find - as cinema usher, towel boy in a massage parlour, night manager of a brothel . . . New York was a bad, lonely experience and Rourke, at the age of 24, tried his luck in Hollywood. At first, California was no better (he took the job of a bouncer at a transvestite club), until, after 78 auditions, he landed the part of a psychopath in a TV movie. The film, City in Fear (1979), was not that bad, and marked David Janssen's final appearance (as a world-weary columnist), and Rourke's first (as a killer-on-the-loose).

    The actor made his big-screen debut in Steven Spielberg's 1941, lost amongst that film's many wasted cameos, and returned to television for a good role in Act of Love (1980), with Ron Howard. In Michael Cimino's underrated, ill-fated Heaven's Gate he played henchman to Christopher Walken, and shortly after his appearance was shot to smithereens. In Lawrence Kasdan's Body Heat (1981) he had a bigger part and made an indelible impression. As an explosives expert he was so quiet, yet so intense, that he upstaged the film's star, William Hurt. It was a small, even an insignificant role, but it lingered in the memory thanks to Rourke's subtle delineation. Unlike so many of his contemporaries who exhibited a frenetic vigour, Rourke conveyed everything through a charismatic stillness, a lowering of the voice, a thoughtful stare.

    In Barry Levinson's Diner (1982), Rourke got poster billing for the first time and found himself in a sleeper hit. He wasn't pleased with the film (at the least, he was ambivalent), but the critics and public loved it. As the velvet-voiced, womanizing hairdresser, Boogie - complete with dark shirts and slicked-back hair - Rourke ambled off with the picture, an ensemble piece at that.

    Next came a small part in Nicolas Roeg's Eureka, in which he was sixth-billed ('I'd rather do a small part on a Roeg film than a big one in a Hollywood meatball movie', he said). This was followed by his role as the Motorcycle Boy in Francis Coppola's cult Rumble Fish (1983), a huge success in Europe, less so in America. Once again Rourke displayed a knowing calm, a slow, meditated confidence that mocked the high-octane energy of the younger kids around him (Matt Dillon, Vincent Spano, Nicolas Cage). Filmed in black-and-white, and with a strong score from The Police's Stewart Copeland, Rumble Fish was the sort of self-conscious, stylized film that created myths. Soon every fashion magazine worth its weight in gloss was featuring Dillon and Rourke on their covers, proclaiming Rourke in particular as an icon for the early 1980s.

    The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984) was less well received, but solidified Rourke's reputation as a smooth-talking, street-smart hustler.

    In Adrian Lyne's Nine 1/2 Weeks (1985) he stepped up-market to play a Wall Street banker, albeit with a bizarre taste for the unnatural in sex. An erotically-charged love story (between Rourke and Kim Basinger), the film caused a considerable stir as the Last Tango of its era. However, Rourke didn't think it went far enough. He told Playboy magazine:

      'I wanted to go all the way with it. I wanted to show every fucking emotion that was going on with me and Kim'.

    Even in its mild form, it shocked a growingly conservative world.

    Hailed as a new Brando and James Dean for the early Eighties, Rourke was ageing so fast that soon critics were comparing him to Bogart. In Cimino's Year of the Dragon (1985) he played a forty-ish, white-haired, jaded detective waging a one-man war on Chinatown. An atmospheric, steel-fisted thriller, Year of the Dragon was dismantled by the critics in a ritual attack on the director of Heaven's Gate. Rourke was proud of the film, and of his performance, and violently defended both. After the film's critical and financial flogging, however, Rourke went into semi-retirement, spending time with his then wife, actress Debra Feuer, and hanging out with his omnipresent entourage of Hell's Angels.

    The English film-maker Alan Parker enticed him back to work with the role of Harry Angel, a seedy, down-at-heel private eye who makes a pact with the Devil (Robert De Niro). Set in 1955 in New York and New Orleans, Parker's Angel Heart (1987) opened up a fresh can of wwms when the American censor dumped an X certificate on it. The offending scene showed a naked Rourke making love to a young black girl (Lisa Bonet) under a torrent of blood. After the expedient excision of a few seconds, Angel Heart was eventually released - to public indifference.

    More controversy surrounded Rourke's next picture, A Prayer For the Dying (in which he was a disillusioned IRA hitman), when the director - Mike Hodges - disowned it after the film had been re-edited. Then the director of Barfly (1987), Barbet Schroeder, offered to cut his fingers off if Cannon Films failed to supply the promised capital which, in the event, they did. Rourke played an alcoholic down-and-out poet, based loosely on the life of the film's scriptwriter Charles Bukowski, and was extraordinary in a rhetorical, larger-than-life performance. However, it was Faye Dunaway, as Rourke's drinking partner and bedmate, who stole the reviews.

    In Homeboy (1984), based on his own screenplay, Rourke played a small-time pugilist, a hero of the actor's adolescent boxing days. Michael Seresin, lighting cameraman on Angel Heart, directed, and Christopher Walken and Debra Feuer co-starred. The project was the realization of a long-held dream.

    Then he pressed the self-destruct button and fucked up. An abusive short-live second marriage to the actress Carrie Otis in the early 1990s may have kept him in the headlines but they were for all the wrong reasons. His selection of film parts turned from strange to 'what the hell is he doing?' 1990's Wild Orchid was utterly worthless and 1991's Harley Davidson & The Marlboro Man little better. Combined with press accounts of his erratic behavior, and his increasingly unkempt appearance, the momentum he'd gathered in the mid 1980s eroded quickly. Rourke returned to boxing for a while between sporadic film assignments which were appalling.

    A sad postscript for a guy who could have been up there with Brando. Only the very few have his screen talent, the gods of the modern world, which makes his decline all the more poignant.

  • The Last Outlaw



a film by fritz lang, germany, 1927

reconstructed & restored 2010
150 minutes

available (22nd nov. 2010): | metropolis microsite



mickey rourke
2pac | kim basinger | faye dunaway | robert de niro


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