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The many faces of Mickey Rourke

Mickey Rourke's career has gone through some remarkable transformations in the last two decades.

He's gone from being a promising young boxer to a bad-boy movie star, from a failed pro boxer to a coulda-shoulda-woulda Hollywood has-been.

But it's not over yet. Now Mickey Rourke is back on his feet with the role of a lifetime, that of Randy "The Ram" Robinson, an over-the-hill wrestler with one last Rocky-esque shot at glory.

Rourke is getting his shot too. And he's currently basking in the best reviews of his career, including the top acting honors at the Venice Film Festival and raves at the Toronto Film Festival. The Oscar buzz is deafening.

"This is for a film with a truly heartbreaking performance in every sense of the word. And if I say heartbreaking, I mean Mickey Rourke," Venice's jury president Wim Wenders declared.

Variety's Todd McCarthy writes of Rourke's "galvanizing, humorous, deeply moving portrait that instantly takes its place among the great iconic screen performances."

Rourke knows a bit about being in the ring. He was born in Schenectady, N.Y., later moved with his divorced mother to Miami, Fla., and won his first bantamweight boxing match when he was 12. As a young man, he was an amateur boxer and trained at the famed 5th Street Gym on Miami Beach.

But his career isn't the only thing that's undergone a noticeable transformation. Being back in the limelight has brought media attention, public scrutiny and questions about what the heck happened to Mickey Rourke's face.

But many people may not recall that Rourke quit acting in 1991 and stepped into the ring full time, becoming a pro boxer. Although Rourke left the boxing ring in 1994 without ever getting his title shot, the sport's scars stayed with him. He had endured severe facial pummeling that left him with a broken cheekbone, a split tongue and a mashed-potato nose. Not to mention broken ribs, knuckles and toes and a few concussions.

Over the last decade, it looks as if Rourke has had several surgeries, some to repair boxing damage, some to repair the repairs and some that were possibly purely cosmetic. The results are far from natural. He's quoted in admitting, 'I went to a certain kind of doctor. I believed it would make things different.'

Rourke was devastatingly handsome when he burst on the Hollywood scene in "Body Heat," followed by "Diner," "Rumble Fish" and "The Pope of Greenwich Village." His most infamous role was in "9 1/2 Weeks" (1986) with Kim Basinger, who would later curiously refer to him as "the human ashtray." He also got down and dirty with Lisa Bonet in "Angel Heart" and managed to make the drunken poet Charles Bukowski lovable in "Barfly" in 1987.

Ironically, in the 1989 film "Johnny Handsome," the actor wore heavy makeup to play a man with facial deformities who is surgically transformed into a handsome guy who looks like the original Mickey Rourke. Today, his life seems to have been that movie played in reverse.

Rourke returned to acting in 1994, not exactly looking like he did when he'd left. He's worked a bit here and there. But his most memorable role before "The Wrestler" was in Robert Rodriguez's 2005 "Sin City." To play Marv, Rourke's face was smothered in groteseque layers of latex that make him resemble a graphic novel palooka with a heart of gold.

Without latex, that's exactly what also shines through in "The Wrestler."

Take a look at the many faces of Rourke.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun