Lost inside a huge sweater and a baggy, low-slung pair of jeans, an oversized brown fedora slumped well down on his forehead, half walking, half leaning against a young woman with long brown hair, actor/boxer Mickey Rourke trudges down a hallway of the Plaza Hotel in New York City. It is two o’clock on a winter afternoon, early for him, and he has a meeting scheduled, although he can’t quite remember with whom. At the door of the Oak Room, where we have arranged to meet, he shakes hands tentatively. Turning to the young woman, he asks, “Is he the stunt coordinator?” His smile is off-kilter, the fogged grin of a sot trying to remember where he parked the car. His sunglasses have upswept tortoiseshell rims and teardrop lenses.
The young woman he’s with, Robbie—“my special assistant in charge of international affairs,” he calls her—reminds him of who I am and what we are doing here. She carries his money, his smokes and his cellular phone. The trappings of his fame, even here at rock bottom, still require that he be coddled like an infant. He is not left alone, not even to go from the second floor of the Plaza to the first. When he wants or needs something, someone must hand it to him. Preferably a woman.
The assistants, the publicists, the friends/bodyguards/gofers—they all have the same job these days: holding Mickey together. They tell him what he wants to hear—above all, by their hovering concern, that he still matters very much—and they say nothing that might register in his ears as unpleasant, such as the name of the wife from whom he is at this moment estranged, Carré Otis, whose presence is palpable, and not only because her name and visage are variously tattooed all over his body. Back in Los Angeles, a spousal-abuse charge filed by Otis is scheduled for trial in a few weeks. Rourke stands accused of slapping her, knocking her down and kicking her. In a few days Otis is due to arrive here in New York, attempting to resurrect her career as a model. She has a new boyfriend, a clothing designer. And here sits Mickey Rourke, his phantom acting comeback now at four years and counting, staring into the abyss through a pair of Edith Prickley shades.
“Women do what I tell them,” Rourke says. He’s serious.
At a table in the back of the room, Mickey takes off his hat; underneath it is a ’do-rag. He removes the glasses. His face is wan, hard-used, his cheeks rutted with nicks and scars, his chin stubbled. Despite this scruffy machismo, his air is feminine: the delicate dark eyes, the moue of his Kewpie-doll mouth, every movement and expression styled and marked with the peculiar self-regard of a creature obsessed with its own appearance. Like a doll, he has different looks to reflect his various personae: Biker Mickey, Mickey the Fop and, today, Hip-Hop Mick. Like an old-time actress, he is coy about his age: He claims 38, but some reports have him as old as 43. He spots a fortyish blonde at a nearby table staring his way. She has finished her lunch and is getting into her coat. She smooths her leather pants with her hands, takes her purse from the table and pushes in her chair, never taking her eyes from him. “They still look at me,” he says, smirking, after she is gone.
At this moment, Rourke is the Snake Man, the character he played in 9½ Weeks and Wild Orchid, who, armed only with a hoarse whisper and a bloated script, ignites the loins of any female, however reluctant. To most of us, this is simply a tired cinema fantasy: the tender thug, soft beneath the manly chest and hard beneath the zipper, the male equivalent of the whore with a heart of gold, who beds and weds the ur-female mannequin, gorgeous but cold, half-human, half-puppet. He reveals her to herself, brings her to life; in return, she becomes the beautiful mirror who exists solely to reflect his own hard but sweet face and larger-than-life force. Fade, the end, roll credits.
“Women do what I tell them,” Rourke says. He’s serious.
And how, exactly, does that work?
“You’ve got to tell them what to do.” Big smile.
Reality, which plays out in three dimensions according to a mostly hidden script, is usually more complex than this. But not for Mick, whose grip on a certain type of woman—models, exclusively, whose careers require the submission of body and will—is the last vestige of his potency. It began with Otis, Rourke’s Wild Orchid costar. With his fame fading, he married Otis, demanded that she give up modeling and began photographing her himself, hobbling her in chains and smearing her with oil. Now, during their separation, Rourke works the fashion-industry soil. At a party Mickey threw for himself, a modeling agent regaled me with the story of a friend whose recent liaison with Rourke had left her feeling unsatisfied with other, lesser men. “I’ve been bitten by the viper,” the friend had said.
Mickey orders roast beef, cold, no bread. He says his trainer, an Argentinean woman, has had him on an 800-calorie diet for three months. Twice he lifts his sweater to demonstrate the flatness of his stomach. It’s a nice stomach, a fine stomach, a proud stomach. He travels with a Gym In A Bag. His Cuban sparring partner shares his suite upstairs; together they work out. Still, he smokes many Marlboros and does not seem fit. His stomach is toned, yes, but he looks thin, battered. He weighs 163 pounds now; he boxed at 178. The boxing may be over. “I don’t know yet,” he says. “Last year, I fractured my cheekbone, I broke my fifth and fourth metacarpal, broke my knuckle twice, my big toe, and I’ve got an eight-inch scar underneath my tongue.” Pause. “Well, it’s about four inches. I had to go back to the boxing because I was self-destructing. I had no respect for myself being an actor. So I went back to a profession which really humbled me.”
He says that he fought nine times over two years, mainly in Europe. He does not say that the dawn of his boxing career coincided with the demise of his career in mainstream movies. One opponent, he says, had fought for the middleweight and light-heavyweight championship of Canada. He does not say why such a consummate pugilist would take a six-rounder with a fortyish actor. He claims a ring record of seven wins and two draws; six of them, he says, were knockouts. He does not say that his pro debut in fact came in 1991, that it was a four-round decision in Miami over a moonlighting auto mechanic.
He is ready, now, to forsake boxing, if only Hollywood will finally take him back. He’s in New York shooting Bullet, a low-budget gangster flick out in Brooklyn, costarring the not-yet-convicted, not-yet-gelded rapper Tupac Shakur. This is what it’s come to: “I’m playing a Jewish guy who gets out of jail after eight years,” he says. “There was an actress we wanted to play the mother—her agency called back and said, I’m not going to stick my talent in a movie with Mickey Rourke and Tupac Shakur.’”
I ask about Carré Otis: Would he like to patch things up? “Don’t talk about that at all,” he warns. “Not at all.”
I venture that he sounds like he’s hurting over her, like he hasn’t let go.
“I don’t let go,” he says, his voice nearly breaking. “Ever. Of nothin’.
“What do you want to know?” he asks after a moment. “Because I’d rather give it to you straight than have you paraphrase some quote that’s not true. Her agent has been using my celebrity to try to get her career off the ground. So I don’t want to give it any play at all.”
Suddenly he puts his arm around my shoulder and pulls me to him until my head is against his. In a hoarse whisper, he says she has a big problem, that it was someone else who slapped and kicked her, or maybe she just fell down.
It’s at this moment, tête-à-tête, that I realize that Mickey Rourke has no smell, no odor whatsoever. None, bad or good. Not even his breath.
A woman answers the door of his suite at the Plaza the following afternoon and introduces herself as Karen. She is full-lipped, brown-haired, blue-eyed, tight-jeaned, sweet-assed, heart-stoppingly fine. She looks, in fact, a lot like a vest-pocket version of Carré Otis. She says she is a singer/model; she once was a model/singer, but she has chosen to put her music first. Mickey is on the phone to L.A., pitching a script he wrote. He describes it as “an ethereal Western.”
His phone call finished, he escorts Karen to the door and stretches out on the couch, stripped to the waist. It is mid-afternoon, but the large room is darkened, lit by a single lamp; the floor-to-ceiling draperies look as if they haven’t stirred in months. Despite the burnished wood and gilt-framed art, there is a whiff of decay. Sweat socks, perhaps, or a remnant of his twin Chihuahuas, who are in another room, asleep. The couch is silken gold, except for one large stain, a smudge on the fabric at the precise spot where, if he were sitting up, his head would rest. His stomach looks excellent today, and his face seems fuller, more robust, less sallow. His hair seems to have a separate, darker existence, as if someone had dipped a sea anemone in motor oil and sewn it to his skull. His mood is improved, reflective but not somber. He’s still talking about his acting comeback.
“I think people know that I’m making a genuine attempt to come back and ask for redemption,” he says quietly. “It’s up to them to say ‘Okay, Mickey, we’ll give you that opportunity.’”
The phone rings and he rises to get it. He’s in the process of having several of his tattoos removed by a laser surgeon in Miami, but above his left shoulder blade a large, fine-line portrait of Carré Otis is untouched. Her face, gentle and smiling, rises above dark clouds like a sun; her hair billows around it. When he answers the phone, no one is on the tine. One of his two Chihuahuas, perhaps awakened by the ringing, trots into the room. “C’mere, baby,” he coos and carries it back to the couch with him. The tiny dog is trembling, cradled in his arms. “They’re not used to New York weather. They have sweaters somewhere. We bought them sweaters.”
Marlon Brando’s autobiography sits on the coffee table between us. “It’s happened to Brando and a lot of people,” he notes, “where they were put on a shelf.” Last year Mickey made a Japanese cigarette commercial and a movie called Fall Time, which, after a tepid reception at the Sundance Film Festival, has yet to be released. He says that if he does not get another offer soon he may call his boxing promoter again, try to find another fight.
His Cuban sparring partner enters the room. The phone rings again: another hang-up. Mickey and his sparring partner have a brief conversation in Spanish. They suspect it is Carré who keeps calling and hanging up.
Mickey grew up in Miami’s notorious Liberty City; when I asked him how he came to live there, he snapped, “Because my mother married a pig.” That would be his stepfather, a cop who regularly slapped Mickey and his brother around. Mickey missed his own father fiercely, with a grudge he held for decades. Before he came to New York to study acting, he was a penniless thug, beering and drugging with the boys, fighting in the streets.
If Hollywood refuses to offer him identities to slip into, if the boxing is over, then he’s left with only himself, a lost and beaten Little boy whose father left him long ago.
“I am trying,” he says now, “through a lot of therapy and a lot of growing, to get the chip off my shoulder. Anybody who’s got demons inside him and, let’s say, comes from a background, let’s say, of being physically abused to a certain extent, you have an innate hatred that never goes away. Never goes away. Because of the hurt, because you can’t defend yourself when you’re little.” Prizefighting, he says, helped him outgrow this. “I had to come to terms with the demons about not feeling like a piece of shit as a man,” he explains, and stops talking for a long minute. “I think the boxing is coming to an end,” he sighs. “I have no choice; it’s time to take the acting, this year, as far as I can take it. I’m not going to get a lot of opportunities. I’ve gotta do it.”
At moments like this, it’s apparent that some part of Mickey Rourke knows he’s finished. He has spent his entire adult life convincing audiences that he is someone else—speaking other people’s lines, investing in the psychic landscapes of men who don’t exist, wearing their clothes, fighting their battles and suffering their wounds. If Hollywood refuses to offer him identities to slip into, if the boxing is over, then he’s left with only himself, a lost and beaten Little boy whose father left him long ago. So he does what he can. He’s the name in boldface in the gossip columns; he’s the tough guy, the fashion plate, the stud the models dig. Self-parody, it seems, is better than no self at all.
The sad thing, the thing that makes Mickey Rourke in descent so fascinating, is that once upon a time this guy could act. His small, dark eyes, his twisted, closed-mouth smile, the weary husk of his voice: He was a kid in 1981, when he had his first standout role, a small part in Body Heat, but every word and gesture said he knew about rage and desire, about feeling caged and doing whatever has to be done to break out.
People noticed, particularly serious directors. Barry Levinson gave Rourke his first featured role, in Diner. Coppola made him Motorcycle Boy in Rumble Fish. Then came The Pope of Greenwich Village, his breakthrough, the performance that his fans still recall with passion. He played Charlie Moran, an Irish tough with mob problems, a volatile relationship with his woman and a self-immolating attachment to the macho, inane code of honor that, at least in the movies, rules the mean streets.
For Mickey Rourke, of course, the role was not exactly a stretch. And while that hard-guy persona he needed to survive growing up the way he did may have helped drive him to acting success, it translated poorly to actual stardom. Even in Liberty City, when you call your job bullshit and your boss a scumbag—as Mickey publicly described 9½ Weeks producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr.—and show up at work with a posse of Hell’s Angels and demand work for all of them, you are begging for the shitcan.
Yet he was still a star then, still had his choice of roles, could have cleaned up his own mess. Instead, as the bleak non-hit parade of neo-noir detectives and mumbling losers grew endless, he became too painful to watch and too difficult to bother working with. However deluded Rourke may be about his past and future in Hollywood, viewing his films in chronological order, watching a fine young actor re-create himself as a stumbling hack—without range, without craft, without even giving a damn—is both astounding and tragic, like seeing a wrecking ball slam a building into dust.
“I need character witnesses,” he says, the Chihuahua next to him on the couch. “Publicists can’t really do it—it’s gotta be people within the industry. They gotta say ‘Hey, you know, Rourke’s ready to start workin’ again.’”
That night, on the movie set, the playground of a public school in Brooklyn, I’m waiting for Mickey to let me into his trailer, where, I’ve been promised, the soul-baring is to continue. “We’ll have all night,” Mick had assured me. “I’m a night man, anyway; I’m a very free spirit at night. There’s no rules.”
Every hour or so, the unit publicist knocks on the trailer door. The door opens slightly and the publicist cranes his head inside. There is a brief conversation and then he returns, shaking his head. “Not yet,” he says each time, as if one of us believes that eventually I’ll get inside. Both of us know the immutable Zen of the star’s trailer: One who belongs in the trailer is in the trailer. One who is outside the trailer belongs outside the trailer. No way exists to get inside the trailer except to be inside the trailer.
The unit publicist was ever so much more cheerful on the ride out to Brooklyn. “Mickey’s incredible,” he had said then. “We heard that he was difficult, but he’s been just incredibly cooperative. He brings everyone on the set into his life.” This may explain why Tupac won’t let anyone into his trailer, either.
When filming breaks for lunch around 11 PM., Tupac and Mickey dine alone, in their respective trailers. I go into the school cafeteria, grab a plate of tepid catered chicken and sit across from Matty Powers, an actor who looks remarkably like a younger, fresher Mickey Rourke. He admires Mickey, feels grateful to be working with him, but he’s worried about the mood swings.
“I can’t get the guy to take his hands out of his pockets,” Matty says. “I said, ‘Mick, how are you?’ He says, ‘Ah, fifty-fifty.’ I say, ‘Mick, you’re not even twenty-eighty.’” Matty says that Mick has agreed to get tested for depression after the shoot is over.
Mickey has a brief scene after midnight. He comes out of the trailer and walks past me without even a nod. At 2:30 A.M., Robbie emerges to confirm that I have no chance of being inside the trailer tonight. Tomorrow is possible, she says, and provides the cellular number. When I phone the next morning to check if it still is possible, Mickey answers. “How the fuck did you get this number?” he says. It sounds like another bad day, so I hang up.
I catch up with Mickey a few days later, early on the Saturday evening that marks the end of Fashion Week in New York. His people have spent the week planting breathless stories in the tabloids about Mickey’s romp through the spring collections.
First, the Daily News ran a front-page photo of the begowned Carré Otis and an inset of her hubby; “DON’T LET HIM NEAR ME,” screamed the headline. On Friday, it was reported that Rourke had trashed his suite at the Plaza to the tune of twenty grand and that owner Donald Trump had banned him from its hallowed grounds for life. The same day, the Post ran a four-column picture of Rourke smooching with some 16-year-old supermodel.
Now he’s in his favorite little café on Madison Avenue, dressed in his hip-hop best, sans hat, with a fresh scrape underneath one eye and his hair waving in lank little tendrils, looking as if it has spent the week at the bottom of a service bay at Jiffy Lube. The entire Rourke troupe is present: Pink, Mickey’s longtime companion/bodyguard; Matty Powers; Robbie; his publicist, who has flown in from the coast to assume wet-nurse duty; and both Chihuahuas. The evening is warm and the dogs are sweaterless.
“Whaddaya got?” Mickey asks as soon as I sit down.
“Whaddaya wanna know?” He’s pissed off.
“What’s with the hair?” I ask.
“It’s growing back. Next question.” The table gets quiet; someone asks Mickey for a smoke. One of the dogs, apparently sensing Daddy’s nasty vibe, leaps from Pink’s lap onto the floor “Loki, baby,” Mick calls, “it’s okay. What are you looking at, my little angel? I love you.” Mickey gives the dog an air kiss and I ask him about the 16-year-old supermodel.
“I would not go near a 16-year-old girl. I don’t even fuck. I’ve gotta be in love to fuck a woman. I’ll get a blow job, but I won’t fuck. I cannot fuck unless I’m in love.”
“Me neither,” I say. “How about a blow job?”
“Open it up,” Mickey says, laughing, pointing at my crotch. “I’ll suck your dick. Got twenty dollars?”
My zipper stays closed, but the exchange relaxes the conversation somewhat. I ask him how the last couple nights of filming Bullet went.
“You missed the fight scene, schmuck,” he answers. “What a schmuck. You missed it. You missed the most difficult night.” He turns to the publicist. “He misses the fight scene. What a schmuck.”
Oh, yeah? “How was Fashion Week? They let you into any of Carré’s shows?”
“I did go. We’re not gonna mention her name in the article, though. You understand what I’m saying? They’re just trying to get her movie career off, and it’s not gonna happen. You understand? They’re using my good name to make me look like a piece of shit. I don’t want you to put that in—I just want you to call other people and put in that she can’t act. That’s all. All right?”
Talk turns to finding a place to watch George Foreman and Michael Moorer fight for the heavyweight championship in a couple of hours. Robbie brings out the cellular, but the midtown sports bar Mickey instructs her to phone is already fully booked. There’s an alternative, a topless club, but first, Mickey says, he has to call someone himself to obtain clearance. Both clubs are mobbed-up, but not with the same family. I ask him why he has to make the call.
“Because there was life before acting, okay?” he says mysteriously.
When I press him on this, he tells me that his real father was a shooter, a Mob hit man known as “Two-Gun Philly.” Narrowing his eyes and dropping his voice, he adds, “That’s a piece of information that’ll put you in the ground if you use it.”
Yeah, Mick’s been friendly with guys, used to hang out at the Ravenite Social Club and so forth. He was caught on-camera outside the courthouse during one of Gotti’s trials, yapping to the local news about how tight he was with the capo. Ever since, Mickey Rourke has been considered a loudmouth and a punk, and he knows it. That’s why he makes these phone calls.
At the topless club, Tupac Shakur and a couple members of his Thug Life crew join us. No problem: The entire center section of the front row has been reserved for Mickey and his group. Tupac and Mickey grew tight while filming Bullet; they sit side by side in the middle of the row. The fight has not begun, so the mirrored stage is held by a series of women thrusting about to the most irritating crap-rock imaginable The overall effect is as exciting as toast, and Mickey and Tupac, huddled in discussion, never look up. They may be comparing legal notes: Tupac’s sodomy trial begins in two days.
When the lights go down and the fight begins, all conversation halts. A series of young men appear at my side—I’m at the end of the row—and ask me if it’s all right to approach Mr. Rourke for an autograph. Since I am large and tattooed, I assume that they have mistaken me for one of his bodyguards, and I turn each of them away: Mr. Rourke can’t be bothered now. Mr. Rourke takes boxing very seriously.
Mickey’s rooting loudly for the 45-year-old Foreman, along with everyone else in the room, but there is little to cheer through the first nine rounds. Moorer, in fact, is pounding Foreman’s pumpkin face into mush. Suddenly, in the tenth round, Foreman clubs the younger man with a sledgehammer right and knocks him out. “See? See?” Mickey screams, leaping from his chair. “Age don’t mean shit!” As the group is escorted to a table for dinner, Mickey tells me that he won $30,000 betting on Foreman. After the meal, the waitress shyly asks Mickey if she can perform a couch dance for him in a private room at the back of the club. “I would love to so much,” she says. “Please.” Mickey graciously assents.
Mickey’s back at the table in fifteen minutes; given his normal state of dishevelment, I can’t tell if anything fellatioc has transpired.
When your career is down the crapper, even bad publicity is good publicity, and each moment of this charade reunion is captured on film.
It’s after midnight, time to head to Club Expo, the trendy dance hall where Mickey hangs regularly. Mickey’s arrival at Expo is precisely choreographed. He has removed his sweater to reveal a white sleeveless undershirt and an enormous wooden cross hanging from a cable-thick rosary around his neck. His jeans droop stylishly below the waistband of his chalk-striped boxers. At his side, Tupac is an encrusted vision of gold subtly accented by a blue New York Rangers jersey and a no-label ’do-rag. We’re met by club personnel, ushered quickly into a side entrance and escorted up to the roped-off velvet-cushioned VIP section, where, on most Saturday nights, Mickey leans against the railing and scans the throng below. Occasionally, he’ll spot a young vixen and have her brought to him. It’s a nice setup.
Tonight, however, Carré Otis herself is planted on the burgundy cushions in Mickey’s section. She’s wearing a tight black dress that plunges midway down her creamy bosom. Her hair is pulled back tightly; her immobile face is a still life of pink, untouchable lust.
“She looks ravishing,” I say to Mickey’s publicist. “Don’t tell Mickey that,” he squeaks, working hard to appear stricken. “I just can’t believe this is happening.” That’s when it becomes clear that this is only another staged event, a show. Carré Otis knows exactly where she’s sitting, as did the Expo people who met Rourke at the door. As does every tabloid photographer in New York City. When your career is down the crapper, even bad publicity is good publicity, and each moment of this charade reunion is captured on film. Carré moves out of Mick’s section shortly, and the Rourke party spreads out. A tray of drinks arrives, sent by Otis. Mickey orders a bottle of Cristal for Carré; Tupac delivers it.
In his VIP section, Mickey swigs from a bottle of red wine; Tupac rolls and smokes joint after joint. As if the scuzz-celebrity quotient here tonight isn’t quite high enough, Shannen Doherty appears on the cushions. She and Tupac talk; Mickey is busy scanning the floor below, where someone has hoisted Carré atop a huge speaker on the floor. She is dancing, stiffly, alone, above the crowd. I notice two girls who have been allowed beyond the rope; they are standing at my side, staring at Mickey’s back, whispering and giggling. The one with raven pigtails, her midriff bare, approaches Mickey. The other, blonde and bubbly-cute, asks me who I am. She and her friend are models, she tells me and begins to laugh. “Look,” she says, pointing to her friend, whose hand is now down the back of Mickey’s jeans. “He’s so gross. I can’t believe it.”
She wants to know what Tupac is like. I tell her all I know is that he’s smoked a lot of weed tonight. “He’ll probably want to do that anal thing,” she says, laughing, and moves to him. In a little while, it’s time to go home. The blonde leaves with Tupac, and Mickey and her friend take the next cab. Before he gets in, Mickey comes over to give me a hug. His lips brush my cheek. “Take care of yourself,” he says warmly. I still can’t smell a thing, not even the wine.
Tempus fugit, they say, and lives change, but not all that much. Shortly after I felt Mick’s farewell kiss, a Los Angeles court dismissed the single count of misdemeanor spousal abuse against him. The city prosecutor’s office was ready to go ahead—Mickey faced a maximum one-year sentence—but Carré Otis simply didn’t show up to testify. “Apparently,” said Rourke’s attorney, “these two wonderful people have been able to work things out between them without it becoming a public spectacle.”
On Valentine’s Day 1995, with newspaper photographers in tow, Mick and Carré announced their reengagement. They had not actually been divorced, of course, but this way they were able to buy new rings.
Poor Tupac was not nearly so fortunate. He was convicted of sexual abuse and sentenced to four and a half years in prison, which turned out to be the good news. The bad news arrived on the night before his conviction, when he was shot five times in a mysterious ambush in the lobby of a Manhattan recording studio. One bullet hit a testicle. “Thug Life to me is dead,” he told Vibe magazine from his jail cell. Eligible for parole in eighteen months, he plans to team with Mike Tyson to help save young blacks from violence.
As of this writing, according to Mickey’s publicist, Rourke and Otis are very happy. “Mickey looks incredible, better than ever,” he told me, “and Carré is modeling full-time.” Yes, he confirms, Mickey definitely has retired from boxing.
Any current movie projects?
“He’s not really working on anything right now,” says the publicist.