Mickey Rourke originally aspired to careers as a pro baseball player and - later - a championship boxer, but did a 180 away from the ring and cut his chops as an actor instead. Rourke launched his career with small roles in 1941 (1979) and Heaven's Gate (1981) before gaining broader notice as a pyro expert in Body Heat (1981) and one of the raunchier leads in Barry Levinson's Diner (1982). He followed with admirable work in Rumble Fish (1983) and The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984), and gave a bravura performance as fanatically determined police captain Stanley White in Year of the Dragon (1985). When the film was slammed by critics, Rourke defended director Michael Cimino and snubbed all interview requests. He immediately gained a reputation as a perfectionist, agreeing only to work with directors and on projects that met with his high standards. His 1987 performances in Angel Heart, A Prayer for the Dying, and Barfly attest to this, but starring roles in Adrian Lyne's infamous 9 1/2 Weeks (1986) and Zalman King's Wild Orchid (1990) gave him a "Eurotrash" taint, only enhanced by his hot temper and maverick nature. These qualities, however, while career poison in the U.S., did nothing to hurt Rourke's reputation in France, where filmgoers adored him.
From the late '80s through the early '90s, the career of this disillusioned actor with the potential of Robert De Niro spiraled down, down, down, with his co-starring appearance in Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (1991) just one nadir. He wrote, produced, and starred in Homeboy (1988), a film about a near brain-dead prize fighter. It skipped theatrical release and went straight to home video. The masochistic connection between this film and Rourke's subsequent resumption of his boxing career (from 1991-1994) was undeniable, though he continued to appear sporadically in small films and supporting roles. In 1997, Rourke reprised his role as an s&m fetishist in Another 9 1/2 Weeks, a virtual remake of the original, only sans the redeeming presence of Kim Basinger.