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Though he began his career in stand-up comedy, intense actor Michael Keaton blossomed into a multi-talented performer comfortable in comedies, gritty dramas and big budget action movies. At first, he used his manic onscreen persona to great effect in early hits like "Night Shift" (1982) and "Mr. Mom" (1983); the former of which put him on the map, while the latter turned him into a star. But it was his wild turn as a perverted ghost in Tim Burton's "Beetlejuice" (1988) and his compelling dramatic performance as a cocaine addict trying to get his life together in "Clean and Sober" (1988) that showcased his true talents. Keaton reached new heights when he won the title role in Burton's take on "Batman" (1989). His casting surprised many - and angered some - though when the finished film was released, most were in agreement that Keaton's brooding performance was inspired. After the inevitable sequel, "Batman Returns" (1992), Keaton went into a bit of a slide, appearing in misguided films like "Jack Frost" (1998), or little-seen indies like "Quicksand" (2001) that barely saw the light of day. He emerged onto the small screen with a stunning turn in "Live from Bagdad" (HBO, 2002), arguably the best...
Though he began his career in stand-up comedy, intense actor Michael Keaton blossomed into a multi-talented performer comfortable in comedies, gritty dramas and big budget action movies. At first, he used his manic onscreen persona to great effect in early hits like "Night Shift" (1982) and "Mr. Mom" (1983); the former of which put him on the map, while the latter turned him into a star. But it was his wild turn as a perverted ghost in Tim Burton's "Beetlejuice" (1988) and his compelling dramatic performance as a cocaine addict trying to get his life together in "Clean and Sober" (1988) that showcased his true talents. Keaton reached new heights when he won the title role in Burton's take on "Batman" (1989). His casting surprised many - and angered some - though when the finished film was released, most were in agreement that Keaton's brooding performance was inspired. After the inevitable sequel, "Batman Returns" (1992), Keaton went into a bit of a slide, appearing in misguided films like "Jack Frost" (1998), or little-seen indies like "Quicksand" (2001) that barely saw the light of day. He emerged onto the small screen with a stunning turn in "Live from Bagdad" (HBO, 2002), arguably the best performance of his career and a reminder that, despite appearances, Keaton was capable of handling any role in any genre or medium.
Born on Sept. 9, 1951 in Coraopolis, PA, Keaton was raised in nearby Robinson Township by his father, George, a civil engineer, and his mother, Leona, a homemaker. As the youngest of four brothers and three sisters, Keaton was routinely vying for attention, often going to great lengths for a laugh, like sticking Hershey bars to his face for sideburns and doing an Elvis Presley impression. By the time he was 13, while attending Saint Malachy grades school, he had the first realization that performing professionally was his calling when he put on skits in class that often got him into trouble with the sisters. His first real brush with performing came while attending Robert Morris College in Pittsburgh, where he took an introductory drama course. He moved on to Kent State University a year after four students were cut down by the National Guard and performed in a few plays. But Keaton quit school and his $25-a-night role in a musical when he went to a Navajo reservation in New Mexico to teach drama for a summer. It was there that Keaton realized that acting was his life's ambition and he decided to pursue it full time.
When he returned in Pittsburgh, Keaton had renewed purpose in his life. He took a job to save money while he acted anywhere he could, including in New York, where he would go on weekends and perform stand-up at the Improv and Catch a Rising Star. In 1975, he made his first appearance on television on the Pittsburgh-based children's show, "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood" (PBS, 1966-2001). Also that year, he was convinced by a friend that opportunity awaited in Los Angeles. Keaton joined his friend and continued to perform stand-up at places like the Comedy Store, though had a rough time of it, especially when he broke out a rubber chicken. As he began landing acting jobs on sitcoms like "All's Fair" (CBS, 1976-77), Keaton was forced to change his original name - Michael Douglas - because that name was already taken by the famous actor son of Kirk Douglas. After flipping though a copy of The Los Angeles Times, he stumbled across a picture of actress Diane Keaton and co-opted her last name as his own.
Meanwhile, he began landing episodes of other short-lived sitcoms like "Mary" (CBS, 1978), starring Mary Tyler Moore, "The Mary Tyler Moore Comedy Hour" (CBS, 1979) and "Working Stiffs" (CBS, 1979), in which he and Jim Belushi starred as a pair of doofus brothers working for their uncle as janitors in Chicago. After a brief spell between projects, he starred in his own series, "Report to Murphy" (CBS, 1982), in which he played an idealistic parole officer named Eddie Murphy - no relation to the comedian - who deals with the everyday frustrations of processing newly released prisoners. At the time, Keaton was excited to have his own show, which made the blow of cancellation all the worse when it came after a handful of episodes. But he also made his feature film debut in Ron Howard's comedy "Night Shift" (1982), in which he was an obnoxious late-night morgue attendant who convinces his straight-laced coworker (Henry Winkler) to run a brothel out of their workplace in the wee hours of the night. Keaton unleashed an unfettered stream of comic energy onscreen, which conflicted nicely with Winkler's subtly reserved performance. Though not a monster hit, the film did well enough to put Keaton on the map and become a cult classic.
A year later, Keaton became a big star with his next film, "Mr. Mom" (1983), playing a corporate dad who is fired from his job, forcing him to take over all the domestic duties, including raising his three rambunctious kids while his wife (Teri Garr) heads back into the workforce. The mild gender-role comedy, which was elevated by Keaton's sympathetic performance as a man learning just how hard it is to be a homemaker, became a significant hit and helped the actor become a viable film commodity. Following the success of his first two films, Keaton went on a bit of a slide for the next several years, starting with "Johnny Dangerously" (1984), an average-at-best spoof on gangster films from the 1930s and 1940s that failed to connect with audiences. In "Gung Ho" (1986), he was a wheeling-dealing automobile assembly manager who convinces a Japanese automaker to take over the plant, which leads to a comic clash of cultures. Though close to his heart - the film took place in his native Pennsylvania - "Gung Ho" fared below average at the box office.
Following the meek-and-mild romantic comedy "Touch and Go" (1986), he was a con man who teams up with a female cop (Rae Dawn Chong) to take down a corrupt lottery host in the long-forgotten crime comedy, "The Squeeze" (1987). Keaton rebounded the following year with a pair of films that not only showed his acting range, but served as the springboard for his career to come. First he starred in Tim Burton's imaginative supernatural comedy, "Beetlejuice" (1988), playing a crass, lascivious, and long-dead bio-exorcist who helps a recently deceased married couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) drive out a new family living in their old house. The role was perfectly suited to Keaton's manic style of comedy and brought him back to prominence. In "Clean and Sober" (1988), Keaton displayed previously unseen dramatic chops as a hot-shot real estate agent addicted to cocaine and on the run for embezzling money from his firm. He finds shelter in a low-rent drug treatment program where he encounters a no-nonsense counselor and former drug abuser (Morgan Freeman) who helps him cope with his addiction. Tough, gritty and unrelenting, "Clean and Sober" caught audiences off-guard with Keaton's powerful performance. A big fan of his unexpectedly brilliant dramatic work was an up-and-coming actress, Courteney Cox, who paid her respects in person when the two began dating a year later. An intensely private couple, the two were rarely photographed together. After a six year relationship, the twosome called it quits in 1995; a break-up which reportedly devastated Cox, who was then enjoying success as one of the stars of "Friends" (1994-2004).
Keaton continued his professional relationship with Burton when he was cast in the title role of "Batman" (1989), a choice that was deemed odd at best; detrimental to the comic series at worst by those expecting someone more brawny and action-oriented to play the Caped Crusader. But Burton knew he made the right choice, especially when Keaton proposed portraying Batman's alter ego Bruce Wayne as broken, emotionally damaged and perhaps even slightly insane. Also starring Jack Nicholson as the Joker and Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale, "Batman" erased all doubts when it amassed over $250 million in domestic box office alone. While a sequel to such a hit was inevitable, Keaton was not a lock to reprise the role unless he liked the script. Luckily, he did. Keaton came back for round two, "Batman Returns" (1992), which was noted for its gothic production design and colorful supporting performances, particularly from Danny Devito as the Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. In fact, both films in the series set the tone for the two immediate sequels, which featured even more over-the-top villains and outlandish production designs, but did not feature Keaton in the title role. News that the part was being recast with first, Val Kilmer, followed by George Clooney, was met with disdain by loyal Batman fans who would believe for years that Keaton was the only one able to pull off the dark side of the character.
When all was said and done, Keaton turned in an admirable performance in both his installments, leading to the conclusion that he was one of the best to play the Dark Knight, a notion that was challenged only when the series was rescued from the dead over 10 years later when Christian Bale took on the Caped Crusader in the Christopher Nolan-directed reboot. With his career options widened to include comedy, drama and action, Keaton was seemingly able to do anything. After playing a disgruntled writer who wanders off with his fellow psychiatric hospital patients in "The Dream Team" (1989), he was formidable as a psychotic tenant provoking his landlords (Melanie Griffith and Mathew Modine) in the otherwise uneven thriller "Pacific Heights" (1990). Following a step backward in the underwhelming crime drama "One Good Cop" (1991), Keaton showed a flair for Shakespearean verse as the watchman Dogberry in Kenneth Branagh's contemporary version of "Much Ado About Nothing" (1993). In "My Life" (1993), Keaton turned in a touching portrait of a fast-paced Hollywood executive dying of cancer who makes videotapes of his life so his unborn child can one day know its father.
Keaton returned to comedy mode as an aggressive and unscrupulous metro editor in "The Paper" (1994), his third outing with director Ron Howard. But even Keaton's impressive comedic gifts failed to help when he paired with Geena Davis in the timidly scripted "Speechless" (1994), in which both played political speech writers who meet and fall in love, only to discover they work for rival candidates. After taking a year hiatus, Keaton returned to the big screen in the mildly amusing "Multiplicity" (1996), playing a beleaguered businessman who clones himself to cope with his busy life. He was next tapped by writer-director Quentin Tarantino to play the dedicated FBI agent Ray Nicolette in Tarantino's adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel, "Jackie Brown" (1997). Keaton reprised the role for a cameo in Steven Soderbergh's adaptation of another Leonard novel, "Out of Sight" (1998), in which he had a fun confrontation with the father (Dennis Farina) of his U.S. Marshal girlfriend (Jennifer Lopez), who is hot on the trail of a charming escaped convict (George Clooney).
Keaton's performance as a cunning, but psychotic serial killer tapped as a bone marrow donor for the dying son of a cop (Andy Garcia) was the primary highlight of the otherwise lackluster action thriller, "Desperate Measures" (1998). In a rare misstep, he played a negligent rock star father who bonds with his son only after he dies and returns as a snowman in the ridiculous and maudlin tearjerker "Jack Frost" (1998). The actor fell off the radar for spell, but resurfaced in a well-acted supporting role in the British-made "A Shot at Glory" (2000), playing the American owner of a second tier Scottish football team who pressures the manager (Robert Duvall) to take on a star player (Ally McCoist). He next appeared in the little-seen French thriller "Quicksand" (2001) as a workaholic bank investigator who gets in over his head in a shifty account scheme while dealing with a washed-up film star (Michael Caine). Keaton followed by turning in one of the best performances of his career in "Live From Baghdad" (HBO, 2002), playing real-life CNN producer Robert Wiener, who finds himself navigating dangerous territory as he tries to televise coverage of the 1991 Gulf War in Iraq. Keaton earned his first Golden Globe nomination for his compelling turn.
As the years wound on, a Keaton screen appearance became less frequent. In lighter fare, he was United States president with a particularly headstrong daughter (Katie Holmes) in "First Daughter" (2004). In the ill-received supernatural thriller, "White Noise" (2004), he played a man contacted by his dead wife (Chandra West) from the beyond via television and radio static. Though not a financial disaster, "White Noise" was universally derided by critics, who were not kind in their reviews. Meanwhile, he was a former star race car driver and father of a headstrong daughter (Lindsay Lohan) who wants to follow in his footsteps in Disney's "Herbie: Fully Loaded" (2005). He followed with a barely noticed turn as a neurotic playwright and rabid Boston Red Sox fan who skips opening night to watch the famous game 6 from the 1986 World Series in the aptly-named drama "Game 6" (2006). After voicing Chick Hicks in the animated "Cars" (2007), Keaton portrayed James Jesus Angleton, the famed CIA chief who failed to root out a high-level mole inside the agency, in the miniseries "The Company" (TNT, 2007). He next made his directorial debut with "The Merry Gentleman" (2009), a moving drama about a vulnerable and depressed hit man (Keaton) who becomes emotionally connected to a woman (Kelly Macdonald) who has fled her abusive husband.
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