Mickey Rourke has appeared in action movies, thrillers, comedies and countless cult classics throughout his wildly varied career. He’s also got a fascinating life story. Between spells of shunning Hollywood for professional boxing, and the extreme highs and lows of his critical reception, here are 20 things you may not know about Rourke.
20. He visited a Russian prison and bought $20,000 gold teeth to prepare for Iron Man 2
The Marvel Cinematic Universe includes some pretty fantastical individuals, from literally an AI come to life to those who can shrink down to a quantum level.
That can make it difficult to do much research for the roles, since many actors in the MCU are dealing with characters whose problems and powers are way beyond the scope of normal life. By contrast, there’s Mickey Rourke’s Iron Man 2 villain, Whiplash.
Whiplash is a pretty grounded (albeit terrifying) character, meaning it was actually possible for an actor to do some research and get into character.
For Rourke, that meant spending time in a Russian prison, in order to observe and learn from the body language, attitude and values of the hardened criminals he needed to mimic.
Rourke also reaffirmed his commitment to the character by purchasing a $20,000 set of gold teeth, which he was convinced his character should wear.
In another eccentric flourish, Rourke also purchased a white cockatoo similar to the one he was asked to work with on-set. Rourke’s new pet bird, Sonny, then took over the original cockatoo as Rourke’s scene partner.
19. Three months of training for The Wrestler hurt him worse than his entire boxing career
To prepare for 2008’s The Wrestler, Rourke lifted weights for six months, ate six meals a day and put on 35 pounds of muscle. He also trained with an instructor from the Israeli army.
Wrestling itself took a massive physical toll on the method actor, and brought Rourke a newfound respect for professionals in the sport. “I got hurt more in the three months of wrestling than I did in 16 years of boxing,” he said at the Lincoln Center in 2008.
As much as The Wrestler is credited for being Rourke’s comeback after a string of less successful projects, it wasn’t always a fun film for him to work on.
Rourke said later that the training he had to go through was punishing. His trainer always took Fridays off, and Rourke “couldn’t wait for that day to come along”.
The training regime was also a difficult adjustment for Rourke because he was no longer used to taking rules, saying: “The old me wasn’t accountable or responsible for anything.
“There were no rules, and I didn’t fear any consequences or repercussions of any kind. I don’t want to go back to that dark place because this is my last chance, and I’m not going to get another.”
18. Donald Trump sued Rourke and Tupac after they trashed a room in one of his hotels
Rourke and Tupac Shakur were – perhaps surprisingly – close friends, with Rourke commenting to TMZ after the rapper’s death, “He was there for me during some very hard times.”
During filming on the 1996 crime drama Bullet, Rourke and Shakur shared a room at the Plaza Hotel in NYC.
In an interview with Mike Swick in 2017, Rourke admitted he and Tupac made a mess of the room, creating “6 or 7 thousand dollars’ worth of damage”.
According to Rourke, Donald Trump, the hotel’s owner at the time, sued the pair for $28,000 in what the actor called a “personal” attack.
- Credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons
This led to a serious dislike of Trumo on the part of Rourke who, despite being a Republican, has called him a “garbage can president”.
Rourke has also said he would give the former US President “a left hook from hell” if their paths crossed in future.
17. He lost a part in Con Air after he pulled a Bowie knife in his audition
By the mid-90s, following a series of bad choices, Mickey Rourke’s career was on the skids. Still, luckily for him, auditions for major movies would still occasionally come his way.
When Rourke got a call to audition for the role of villain Cyrus ‘The Virus’ in Con Air, the actor was understandably keen to impress. Unfortunately, he went a little overboard in showing his commitment.
While auditioning to play Con Air’s chief bad guy, Rourke reportedly startled directors by pulling out a ten-inch Bowie knife and wielding it at an assistant casting director.
Predictably, Rourke did not get the part. Instead, the role of The Virus was handed over to John Malkovich.
Con Air got mixed reviews from critics upon release, but praise universally went to Malkovich for his hard-as-nails performance as Cyrus.
Who knows if Mickey Rourke would have brought even more malicious energy to Con Air’s villain than John Malkovich, but if Rourke’s performance had been anywhere near as threatening as his audition we’re sure it would have been gold.
16. He once opened a New York-style candy store in LA just to cure his homesickness
Rourke, his brother Joey and celebrity hairdresser Giuseppe Franco once opened an LA store that sold sweets and drinks.
The store, named Mickey and Joey’s, was hidden in the far corner of a Beverly Hills shopping plaza off North Canon Drive.
Featuring classic New York snacks, the store conjured memories of Rourke’s years training as an actor in NYC.
Popular with local bikers (it featured Harley Davidson memorabilia), Rourke opened the store in part to combat his homesickness while he was living out in LA.
The store was even popular enough to be profiled in the LA Times, despite only being physically large enough to seat three people at a time.
The store featured a miniature soda fountain as well as sweets and, in a pretty rock and roll twist, stayed open until 2 AM most days.
15. Kim Basinger nicknamed him “the Human Ashtray”
Kim Basinger was Rourke’s co-star in 9 1/2 Weeks, an erotic drama that received mixed reviews from critics on release.
Basinger reportedly nicknamed Rourke “the Human Ashtray” on the set of the film, and said that kissing him was “like kissing an ashtray”.
The experience of shooting the film with Rourke was not a pleasant one for Basinger, in part because he stayed in character the entire time.
Given that the movie is about a relationship that slowly devolves into abuse, that meant Rourke being alternately sweet and cold to Basinger, until it got to the point where he was completely ignoring her on set.
At one point during shooting, Rourke even slapped Basinger without warning, so she wouldn’t look so calm and ‘pretty’ during the movie’s most devastating scene.
After the experience, it took 23 years for the actors to make up and work together again, in 2008’s The Informers.
14. He once quit a film because the director wouldn’t create a role for his dog
Prior to his break from acting in the mid-90s, Rourke developed a reputation as a difficult actor to work with. The reputation has followed him ever since.
For one, while filming Luck of the Draw in 2000, Rourke actually walked off the set because the team wouldn’t create a role for his dog. He was (unsurprisingly) fired, although writer-director Robert Rodriguez was more accommodating to this request on Once Upon a Time in Mexico.
Since his comeback, Rourke has been pretty open about how difficult he was to deal with in his wilder years, both on set and in general.
He’s referred to his mental attitude at the time in several interviews, and has been open about what it felt like to hit rock bottom. In a particularly honest interview, Rourke said: “I remember looking at myself in the mirror and thinking: look at what happened to you.”
“I had blown everything, you know? I lost my credibility, my marriage, my money, my soul. I said to myself, you’ve got to change. And I realized that the acting was the only thing I had left.”
Rourke has said that he is determined to never be that difficult to work with again, because “it was too much hard work to get it [credibility] back and too lonely and too dark.”
13. While training as an actor, he used to rehearse with random people off the street
In the early 1970s, Rourke was accepted into the legendary Actors Studio in New York, having given what studio co-founder Elia Kazan called the “best audition in 30 years”.
At the time a hungry young actor, Rourke studied hard, since recalling he would even wander the building late at night to find someone – anyone – who would run through scripts with him.
Rourke told HIT magazine in 2011 that he would “grab whoever I could to go rehearse lines with me – I’d pay a drunk off the street to come in and read.”
Acting in New York at the beginning of his career was by far Rourke’s happiest time, even if he was far less established than he is now.
Rourke has pinpointed working on The Pope of Greenwich Village in New York in 1984 as his happiest shooting experience, even if it also represented the beginning of his downward spiral.
Talking about the movie in 2003, Rourke said “it was the most fun I’ve ever had on a movie. It was one of the happiest times in my life. I was living in New York, and I really enjoyed acting at the time.”
12. He’s an expert in a particularly intense Korean martial art
Throughout his life, Mickey Rourke has embarked on two stints of professional boxing, each lasting several years.
He also subjected himself to intense training for The Wrestler, giving him another set of skills in the ring.
On top of both of those things though, Rourke has another lesser-known string to his bow, in the world of martial arts.
Rourke is actually immensely skilled in Hwa Rang Do, a Korean martial art whose name translates to The Way of the Flowering Knights.
For six years, Rourke studied with Taejoon Lee, respectively the son and nephew of the creators of Hwa Rang Do.
In other words, Mickey Rourke not the kind of person you would want to get on the wrong side of, since he has at least three different strategies for causing a person injury.
11. The global health crisis hasn’t stopped him from making movies
Cast and crew on the set of Warhunt, in Riga, Latvia, worked hard to keep the camera rolling throughout the current health crisis.
The fantasy horror film, set in World War Two, stars Rourke as an American soldier battling a coven of witches.
The production used social distancing, twice-daily temperature checks and masks to keep the team safe.
Rourke told Variety magazine, “I came to Riga to work and this thing was so out of control, but everyone was so great.”
Rourke’s shooting days had to be changed in order for him to get out of America before the country closed its borders, but the film was still able to wrap on shooting at the end of April.
Warhunt was an unusual shoot, however, with make-up artists only ever being assigned to one person, and wearing face-masks and changing brushes every hour to keep everything as sanitary as possible.
10. He turned down parts in Top Gun, Pulp Fiction and Beverly Hills Cop
A large part of Mickey Rourke’s career has seen the actor’s work suffer as a result of him not even being offered the good projects.
Still, an even larger part of Rourke’s career has found him turning down what could have been potentially career-altering opportunities.
For a start, Rourke turned down the chance to play Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction, with the role eventually going to Bruce Willis.
He also allegedly turned down a large role in Top Gun, although exactly which call sign he would have adopted is still unknown.
Strangest of all, Rourke was originally offered the starring role in Beverley Hills Cop; the part was then offered to Sylvester Stallone when Rourke turned it down.
Unsurprisingly, after Stallone too pulled out, the characterisation of the movie’s starring role underwent various changes before it was finally offered to Eddie Murphy. The role ultimately made a megastar of the SNL comedian.
9. He actually hates wrestling
It’s pretty surprising given that he literally starred in a movie called The Wrestler, but Mickey Rourke is no fan of the sport.
While his family were apparently big wrestling fans growing up, Rourke was unabashedly dismissive of it, and disliked it greatly.
Speaking about his youthful dislike of wrestling, Rourke said “it was a sport I looked down on as fake and theatrical. My half brothers used to go and watch it all the time and think it was real, but I couldn’t stand the f***ing sport. I had a terrible disdain for it.”
Rather than out of love for the sport, Rourke was initially drawn to The Wrestler because of the story of its protagonist, since he identified with his rise and fall from stardom.
Since working on the film and learning how much work the trade involves, Rourke’s opinion on wrestling has understandably softened.
Rourke has since said “I have a lot of respect for a sport I was ignorant about. I take my hat off to those guys, I really do.”
8. Nicole Kidman refuses to work with him
Mickey Rourke’s comeback means he’s had a pretty good career trajectory of late, but his fall from grace has had long-term consequences.
Most significantly, he was blocked from starring alongside Meg Ryan in 2003’s In The Cut, which he believed could have been his comeback.
Rourke was initially considered for a part in the movie, but Nicole Kidman, who produced the film, did not want to see him involved. Mark Ruffalo took the role instead.
Kidman was allegedly put off casting him thanks to rumours about how difficult he was to work with, which Rourke reluctantly understood.
Talking about the whole situation, Rourke admitted that “if I was Nicole Kidman, I wouldn’t want to work with me, either.”
He went on to say “I was flat broke at the time. In the Cut would have been my first big part in a comeback. But it was my fault to put myself in a position where someone like her could dictate whether I worked or not.”
7. He re-wrote his entire script for The Wrestler
Rourke was universally praised for his work in The Wrestler, with everyone from Emma Thompson to Al Pacino sending him letters to congratulate Rourke on his performance.
Part of the reason his performance was so admired is that he contributed to the movie in more ways than just acting.
Rourke was given the opportunity to rewrite all of his lines, drawing on his own life experiences in order to make the dialogue more realistic.
He was actually not a fan of the writing at first, saying: “I didn’t really care for the script, but I wanted to work with Darren [Aronofsky, director].”
Rourke went on to say “I kind of thought that whoever wrote the script hadn’t spent as much time as I had around these kinds of people and he wouldn’t have spoken the way the dude was speaking in the screenplay.”
After the script changes were made, Rourke was way more excited to play the part, and created an ultra-relatable and nuanced character as a result.
6. He hated working with Marvel
Rourke had already made his comeback by the time he appeared as Whiplash in Iron Man 2, but the part elevated him to a new mainstream level of fame.
Many critics also noticed that Rourke was the perfect person for the role, given that his career trajectory was similar to Robert Downey Jr’s, who played Iron Man.
Unfortunately for Rourke, he ended up pretty disillusioned with his time working for Marvel, as his performance was chopped down and made less nuanced in the final cut of the film.
Rourke later lashed out at the studio, even going so far as to say that if they wanted to make “mindless comic book movies”, they could.
Also, while he and Robert Downey Jr seemed pretty happy to work together on Iron Man 2, Rourke’s opinion of his co-star wasn’t super high.
He’s been quoted as saying that Downey “needs to humble himself”, and has been exasperated at Hollywood’s tendency to give Downey “like a million chances”.
5. One of his best friends was a priest
- Credit: David Shankbone
Mickey Rourke has a pretty tough exterior, so it might surprise you to know that one of his longest and best friendships was with a beloved New York priest, Pete Colapietro.
Known as Father Pete, the priest was actually famous in New York for his unceasing kindness and generosity, with many paying tribute to him when he died in 2018.
Rourke and Father Pete became close friends when Rourke started therapy, with the two meeting multiple times a week.
As Rourke himself put it: “My priest is this cool Italian from New York. We go down to his basement and he opens the wine. We smoke a cigarette and I have my confession. He sends me upstairs to do my Hail Marys.”
- Credit: Anton Belitsky
Rourke credits Father Pete for getting him through the worst of his depression, and the two were fast friends for many years.
Rourke went on to say in the same interview: “I would pray to God. I would say, “Please, can you send me just a little bit of daylight?” He talked me out of it and we started meeting. His name is Father Pete and he lives in New York. Father Pete put me back on the right track.”
4. He counts Axl Rose and Bruce Springsteen among his friends
- Credit: Stian Schløsser Møller
On the other end of the spectrum from being friends with a priest, Mickey Rourke also has some serious connections in the world of rock.
Both Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses and Bruce Springsteen count Rourke as a friend, and the evidence of their friendship can be seen in Rourke’s movies.
- Credit: Raph_PH via Wikimedia Commons
First off, when Rourke was working as a professional boxer, Sweet Child O’ Mine was the song he used for his ring walk.
Later in his career, Rourke’s friendship with Axl Rose meant he was able to acquire the rights to use the song in The Wrestler for free, as his character Randy ‘The Ram’s entrance song.
The Wrestler’s theme song was written by Bruce Springsteen, who also contributed the song for free owing to his friendship with Rourke.
Springsteen’s generosity paid off, as the song was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Orignal Song, as well as being nominated for a Grammy.
3. He has a feud with Robert De Niro going back 34 years
Mickey Rourke is a pretty outspoken guy, so it’s understandable that he’s been very vocal about the people he doesn’t like, as well as the people he does.
Right at the top of the list of people he seems not to get along with is Robert De Niro, and the feeling appears to be mutual.
The 34-year-old feud seems to have started on the set of Angel Heart, with De Niro – who plays Louis Cyphre in the film – deciding he and Rourke (Harry Angel) should not talk on set.
De Niro thought this would preserve the antagonistic chemistry between their two characters, but the choice rubbed Rourke the wrong way. Rourke says he then “took [De Niro] to school” (whatever that means).
The pair’s spat flared up again in the wake of the release of Martin Scorsese’s 2019 crime drama The Irishman, with Rourke’s manager allegedly telling him that he had been banned from the project by De Niro.
De Niro denied that Rourke had ever even been in contention to appear in the project, resulting in an explosive Instagram post where Rourke threatened to embarrass De Niro “100%”.
2. He spent time with real IRA members to get into character for A Prayer for the Dying
Despite his reputation for unprofessionalism, Rourke has also been known to take projects extremely seriously, especially when he believes the subject matter deserves it.
That was certainly the case with A Prayer for the Dying, which led to Rourke spending time with real former members of the IRA.
Unfortunately for Rourke, the movie was panned when it came out, and the theatrical cut was publicly disowned by both Rourke and the film’s director Mike Hodges.
Both credited their dislike to the fact that the movie had been completely re-edited to satisfy an American audience, who expected a high-octane action movie.
Rourke was furious that everything from the dialogue to the score had been cut or changed, resulting in a completely different movie.
It’s not hard to imagine that Rourke was even more furious given that he had gone to such extreme and dedicated lengths to research.
1. He’s never lost a boxing match
- Credit: Mark Mathosian via Flickr
Mickey Rourke has gone back to professional boxing twice in his life, the first time for several years, and the second time for just one match.
In his whole boxing career, Rourke has never lost a professional match and has had a run of eight matches where he was entirely undefeated, with two draws and six wins.
Rourke returned to professional boxing when he perceived that his acting career was going downhill in 1991.
However, he had to leave the sport after suffering broken ribs, a split tongue, a compressed cheek and short term memory loss.
Rourke temporarily returned to boxing in 2014, when he won an exhibition match. However, it was alleged that his opponent was paid to throw the match and take a dive, which ruined Rourke’s plans for more professional boxing.