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Bradley Cooper in 'The Elephant Man': A dream role for a heartthrob

It has become something of a theater tradition to cast a good-looking young man in the role of John Merrick, the horribly deformed protagonist of "The Elephant Man." The role, which requires the actor to be shirtless for a good period of time, is a showcase for an ambitious thespian looking to brandish his acting chops -- and his abdominals.

The latest hunk to take the role in Bernard Pomerance's play is Bradley Cooper, who will reprise his 2012 performance from the Williamstown Theatre Festival on Broadway this fall. Cooper will be reunited with Alessandro Nivola as Dr. Treves, who rescues Merrick from a freak show, and Patricia Clarkson, as the actress who befriends the patient.

PHOTOS: Hollywood stars on stage

As is the custom with the play, Cooper brings Merrick to life without the aid of prosthetic makeup. Instead, he physically simulates the character's painful walk and distorted speech.

"The Elephant Man" was inspired by the life of Merrick, an Englishman who is believed to have suffered from a type of neurofibromatosis, a deforming disorder. The part of Merrick has been played by notable young actors since the stage drama debuted in the late '70s. (David Lynch's movie of the same name isn't based on the play.) Here's a look back at some the more famous faces to have taken on the challenging role.



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PHOTOS: Hollywood stars on stage

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