Michael Rooker is an American actor who earned the reputation of a perfect villain owing to his spine-chilling performance in the controversial psychological crime drama ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.’ The film was based on the confessions of real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. His performance as Henry was critically acclaimed and paved the way for movies such as ‘Eight Men Out,’ ‘Mississippi Burning,’ ‘JFK,’ ‘Sea of Love,’ and ‘Days of Thunder.’ In the recent years, he has gained a cult following owing to his performance as the blue alien ‘Yondu Udonta’ in the widely popular ‘Marvel’ franchise ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’
Childhood & Early Life
Michael Rooker was born on April 6, 1955, in Jasper, Alabama. His parents divorced when he was 13. His mother had to move to Chicago with young Michael, along with his eight siblings.
There were too many mouths to feed and very little resources, making life difficult for Michael as a child. He attended ‘Wells Community Academy High School.’ As a child, Rooker was skinny but tough. He trained in the Japanese martial art known as “Aikido” for 10 years.
He wanted to join the Marines when he was younger. However, he was classified 4F due to a hearing issue. Moreover, his performances in school productions made him realize that he had an inclination toward the performing arts. He was accepted at the prestigious ‘Goodman School of Drama,’ where he trained to be an actor.
Even as a child growing up in a not-so-nice part of Chicago, he refused to give in to his surroundings and get involved with gangs and drugs. He always believed he would be successful as an actor.
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While in college, Michael Rooker delivered a number of stage performances in Chicago, such as ‘Union Boys,’ ‘The Crack Walker,’ and ‘The Hostage.’ He went to New York to perform in Beth Henley’s ‘Off-Broadway,’ ‘Abundance.’ He was noticed by director John Naughton during one of his performances. Naughton later cast him as the real-life serial killer Henry in his psychological crime film ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’ in 1985. Mired in controversy for its realistic portrayal, the movie was a tough sell for the director. After waiting for a year to be showcased, it premiered at the ‘Chicago Film Festival.’ He was awarded the ‘Golden Space Needle Award’ in 1990 and the ‘International Fantasy Film Award’ the following year.
His next appearance, in ‘Mississippi Burning’ (1988), was obviously a result of him being typecast due to his portrayal of Henry. He played yet another real-life serial killer, Alton Wayne Bailey, who had infamously killed three civil-rights workers in 1964. He continued showcasing the gray shades of the human mind through films such as ‘Sea of Love’ (1989), ‘Days of Thunder’ (1990), and ‘Eight Men Out’ (1988, a film based on the Black Sox betting scandal).
He started getting recognized as an actor who could portray real people on screen. His portrayal of ‘Karchy Laszlo’ in the Costa-Gavras-directed movie ‘Music Box’ (1989), a movie based on writer Joe Eszterhas’s father and John Demjanjuk, who had participated in anti-Semitic war crimes, was noteworthy.
After getting a stable foothold on the big screen, Rooker made some noteworthy small-screen appearances. He appeared as ‘Col. Edwards’ in ‘Stargate SG-1,’ as ‘Marty Jones’ in ‘CSI: Miami,’ as ‘Jamie Yost’ in ‘Law & Order,’ and as ‘Oscar Riddick’ in ‘Shark.’ Though Rooker started his TV career around the same time he began his big-screen career, his first breakthrough role was in ‘AMC’s post-apocalyptic fantasy series ‘The Walking Dead’ (2010), as ‘Merle Dixon.’ He remained on the show for 14 episodes and won the ‘Satellite Award for Best Cast’ in 2012.
Director James Gunn and Rooker became friends on the sets of the director’s debut movie, ‘Slither’ (2006). He was cast by Gunn in his black comedy ‘Super’ in 2010. The pair worked together in most of Gunn’s movies, including ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (2014). His character of the blue alien ‘Yondu Udonta’ in the movie became a comic-lover’s favorite. He was seen in the second volume of the movie, in 2017.
His future projects include a horror–comedy named ‘Fantasy Island,’ which is based on the TV series of the same name. He will also be seen in ‘Monster Problems,’ a post-apocalyptic movie.
He found a lot of success as a voice artist, too. He started by voicing ‘Centurion, Jack’ in the video game ‘The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay’ in 2004. Following this, he voiced characters in the popular games ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops,’ ‘Days of Thunder,’ ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops II,’ and ‘The Walking Dead: Survival Instincts.’
Family & Personal Life
Michael Rooker married Margot on June 22, 1979. They have a happy family life in California. They have two daughters, Alynne Rooker and Gillian Rooker. Unlike many Hollywood celebrities, Rooker seems to have averted any kind of media controversy.
Michael Rooker continues to practice different forms of martial arts to maintain his lean yet strong physique. He has a black belt in “Kyokushin,” which is a form of full-contact karate, founded in 1964. He also trains in “Aikido,” a form of Japanese self-defence martial art.
He came out in support of his friend, director James Gunn, when ‘Marvel’ decided to drop Gunn from ‘Guardians of Galaxy, Vol. 3.’ Rooker decided to quit ‘Twitter,’ protesting against the manner in which James Gunn had been trolled for a few of his controversial comments made in the past.