1:37pm PDT, Sep 5, 2021
Michael Keaton’s acting career spans five decades and ranges from comedies like “Night Shift” and “Mr. Mom” to blockbusters including “Batman” and “Beetlejuice” to more recent acclaimed dramas such as “Birdman” and “Spotlight.” To celebrate the Oscar-nominated star’s 70th birthday on Sep. 5, 2021, join Wonderwall.com as we take a look at the highlights of Michael’s career and personal life in pictures…
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Michael Keaton was born Michael John Douglas in 1951 in Kennedy Township, Pennsylvania. His father, George A. Douglas, worked as a civil engineer and surveyor, and his mother, Leona Elizabeth, was a homemaker. He was raised in a Catholic family where he was the youngest of seven children. Michael explained to The Guardian in 2017 that he stood out from other kids at school. “I was a kid who liked adventure stories, who fantasized too much, who was extremely physically active,” he said. “I had friends at school, but I wasn’t really social. I didn’t really like sleepovers — I liked sleeping outside.” After graduating from high school, Michael studied speech at Kent State University in Ohio. However, he dropped out after two years in the program and headed to Pittsburgh to pursue acting. He’s seen here early in his career, delivering a monologue on “Saturday Night Live” in 1982.
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After making appearances on Pittsburgh public television programs “Where the Heart Is” and “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and working in local theater in the mid-’70s, Michael Keaton left Pennsylvania for Los Angeles to audition for more high-profile gigs. It wasn’t long before he landed a major role on “The Mary Tyler Moore Hour” in 1979 and changed his last name name to Keaton as there were already performers with the names Michael Douglas and Mike Douglas. He’s said in several interviews that he searched a phone book under “K,” saw Keaton and decided to stop looking.
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“The Mary Tyler Moore Hour” only lasted one season, but luckily, Michael Keaton was cast in another sitcom that same year. He starred on “Working Stiffs” alongside comedian Jim Belushi as brothers who work as janitors and are intent on building their way up in the field of business. Unfortunately, the CBS series was scheduled against hits like “CHiPs” and “The Ropers” and never found its footing in the ratings. It was canceled after only four episodes aired.
Despite his poor luck with television projects, Michael Keaton soon made his big screen debut with a small non-speaking role in the Joan Rivers film “Rabbit Test” then had his breakout role opposite Henry Winkler and Shelley Long in the comedy “Night Shift.” The 1982 film directed by Ron Howard follows a night-shift morgue employee, fast-talking schemer Bill “Blaze” Blazejowski, whose life is turned upside down by a new co-worker who thinks of himself as a free-spirited entrepreneur. The hit movie earned him critical praise, with critic Gene Siskel writing in the Chicago Tribune that Michael’s performance was “superb” and that “based on this one role, I would now pay to see Keaton in just about anything.”
Michael Keaton married actress Caroline McWilliams in 1982. Caroline (seen here with Michael at a party for his movie “Johnny Dangerously” in 1984) was best known for her work on the hit TV shows “Benson,” “Soap,” “Guiding Light” and “Another World.” The pair welcomed a son, Sean, in 1983. They remained together for the rest of the decade — until the actor filed for divorce in 1990. Sadly, Caroline passed away from complications of multiple myeloma in 2010. “The feelings that came up were odd, but not in a bad way, necessarily, because we had remained close,” Michael told ELLE magazine after her death. “She was a remarkable mom.”
Michael Keaton’s first lead movie role came in the 1983 comedy “Mr. Mom.” He stars as a furloughed automotive engineer who becomes a stay-at-home dad and takes care of his three young children after his wife returns to a career in advertising. The actor turned down a major role in the hit film “Splash” to do “Mr. Mom,” telling Grantland in 2012, “I just remember at the time thinking I wanted to get away from what I’d just done on ‘Night Shift.’ I thought if I do it again, I might get myself stuck. So then ‘Mr. Mom’ came along. So I said no [to ‘Splash’] so I could set up this framework right away where I could do different things.” Michael clearly made the right choice, as “Mr. Mom” was a box office success and led to big-screen comedies like “Johnny Dangerously,” “Gung Ho,” “The Squeeze” and “The Dream Team.”
Following a run of acclaimed comedies, Michael Keaton worried about being pigeonholed as a funnyman so grew determined to branch out into more dramatic projects. His first was “Touch and Go,” which featured the star as a pro ice hockey player who falls for the mother of a young boy who attempts to mug him. The release of the film was delayed by two years and marketing material mistakenly sold the film as another “Mr. Mom,” hurting efforts to find an audience. Around the same time, Jeff Daniels replaced Michael as the lead in Woody Allen’s “The Purple Rose of Cairo” after the now-disgraced director decided Michael was “too modern” for the role.
His dramatic break finally came with 1988’s “Clean and Sober,” which saw the actor portraying a real estate agent struggling with a substance abuse problem opposite actress Kathy Baker. The creative left turn received praise from critics, with Robert Ebert writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, “One of the strengths Michael Keaton brings to ‘Clean and Sober’ is his wild, tumultuous energy, which makes his character seem less like a victim than like an accident causing itself to happen.’ Michael’s work proved his versatility as an actor and won him the 1988 National Society of Film Critics Award for best actor.
That same year, 1988, Michael Keaton was boosted up to Hollywood’s A-list thanks to the success of the seminal horror-comedy “Beetlejuice.” Directed by Tim Burton and co-starring Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Catherine O’Hara and Winona Ryder, it follows a recently deceased couple who become ghosts haunting their former home and the obnoxious, devious poltergeist from the Netherworld who tries to scare away the new inhabitants. It won over both critics and audiences, grossing more than $70 million and nabbing an Academy Award for best makeup. “So much of it was improvised and so much was beautifully handmade by the artist that is Tim Burton,” Michael told Variety in 2016 of his performance. The film’s success spawned an animated television series, video games and a 2018 stage musical.
Michael Keaton’s career got an even bigger boost when he worked with Tim Burton again, this time in the filmmaker’s 1989 adaptation of “Batman.” The casting decision caused major backlash among fans who were most familiar with Michael from his hit comedies, but producers believed in his talent after his work in “Beetlejuice” and “Clean and Sober.” Despite Warner Bros. receiving thousands of complaint letters and numerous big names being considered for the part, they kept Michael as the Caped Crusader. “I truly didn’t understand why people cared one way or another, and I can’t believe people still care,” he told The Guardian in 2017. “I just thought, I know what I’m doing, and I could be wrong, but in terms of what Tim and I discussed for the movie, I knew we were right on.” Right they were, as Michael‘s performance ultimately earned widespread acclaim from both critics and audiences and “Batman” became one of the most successful films of 1989.
Not long after Michael Keaton’s divorce from Caroline McWilliams, he began dating actress Courteney Cox, long before she starred on “Friends.” They met in 1989 after she told a mutual friend how much she liked his performance in “Clean and Sober.” They had their first date at her house, which she described to People magazine, saying “We talked for five hours. We talked about our dream homes — the great ones we’d seen and the kind we’d like to build ourselves.” The very private couple dated for nearly six years, splitting in 1995. “It’s the most important relationship I’ve ever had, and I think he’s the most wonderful person I’ve ever met,” Courteney (seen here with Michael at the 1992 ShoWest convention in Las Vegas) told People after their split, adding, “We still love each other.”
As someone who grew up just outside of Pittsburgh and lived in the Steel City for years, Michael Keaton has always been a diehard fan of its sports teams, especially the Pirates. In 1986, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch before a Major League Baseball game at Three Rivers Stadium. He even negotiated a break in his “Batman” movie contract in case the team made the playoffs that year, although they ultimately did not. “This is a city that prides itself on its well-deserved toughness, its no-nonsense attitude, its family-and-friends-oriented loyalty,” he told ESPN of his fandom in 2013. “Let’s forget for a moment that my natural-born ‘enthusiasm’ has been described as extreme, contagious and intense, making me — in the eyes of our childhood neighbor Mrs. Potter, the matriarch of a household not exactly known for its ‘enthusiasm’ over anything — peculiar.”
Michael Keaton sported his black cape once again for the 1992 sequel “Batman Returns.” The second film follows the superhero’s battle against popular villains The Penguin and Catwoman, played by Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer. It grossed more than $266 million worldwide and received positive reviews that praised its action sequences, performances, score, effects and villains. It came as no surprise when a third film was announced with Michael set to reprise the role. But when director Tim Burton was dropped from the film, the star left as well, reportedly because he was dissatisfied with the screenplay approved by new director Joel Schumacher. “[The film] just wasn’t any good, man. I tried to be patient, but after a certain point, I was like, I can’t take this any more, this is going to be horrible,” he told The Guardian in 2017. “I thought, I’m in this job for the long run, I don’t want this.” Despite reports that he was offered $15 million to return, he still walked away and Val Kilmer replaced him in 1995’s “Batman Forever.”
After hanging up his Batsuit for good, Michael Keaton decided to do a full 180 and focus on adult dramas such as “One Good Cop,” “My Life,” “The Paper” and 1993’s star-studded Shakespeare adaptation “Much Ado About Nothing.” Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, the winning ensemble included Kenneth, Michael, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves and Kate Beckinsale in her film debut. It became one of the most profitable Shakespeare films and earned praise from critics, with The New York Times calling it “ravishing entertainment.” Michael explained to The Guardian in 2017 that he wanted to pick things separating him from Batman, as well as projects with great scripts. “It was both,” he said. “I do what interests me.”
Michael Keaton’s career began slowing down in the late ’90s. He closed out the decade playing ATF Agent Ray Nicolette in film adaptations of two Elmore Leonard novels: Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” in 1997 (pictured) and Steven Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight” in 1998. Michael later told Empire Magazine that Quentin convinced him to take the part by getting him drunk. “We go out on Sunset Boulevard, Quentin has us drinking Jägermeister,” he recalled. “Firstly, who drinks Jägermeister, man? Anyway, I don’t know what happened but the next thing I’m heading home and I’m doing the movie.” After these films, Michael took a step back from acting, instead spending time living a quiet life on the ranch he owns near Big Timber, Montana, fishing, hunting and enjoying the woods.
In the early ’00s, Michael Keaton only appeared in a handful of projects, like the TV movie “Live From Baghdad” — which earned him a Golden Globe Award nomination — and the poorly received films “First Daughter,” “White Noise” and “Herbie: Fully Loaded” (pictured) opposite Lindsay Lohan and everyone’s favorite mischievous car. He explained to The Guardian in 2017 that he had become intentionally more selective about the work he chose at the time. “There’s me taking a pause: I really like life, doing things, having a normal life. So there was that,” he shared. “And there was me getting bored, hearing the sound of my voice, seeing the same old tricks. So I may have lost interest, combined with a whole lot of people not knocking on my door. It wasn’t just me. But I also consciously started to slowly change things internally, and it worked.”
Michael Keaton has always been close with his son, Sean Douglas, referring to him as his “best friend” during his Golden Globe Award acceptance speech in 2015. (The father-son duo are seen here at the 2003 Golden Globes, where Michael was nominated for his work in “Live From Baghdad.”) “My best friend is kind, intelligent, funny, talented, considerate, thoughtful — did I say kind? He also happens to be my son, Sean,” the actor gushed. “I love you with all my heart, buddy.” When Michael received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2016, Sean — a Grammy-winning songwriter-producer who’s worked with the likes of Madonna, Lizzo, Thomas Rhett and Demi Lovato — gave a speech praising his dad, saying, “I’m so proud to be your son. You’re my hero, my best friend and I love you so much.”
Michael Keaton failed to appear in anything that reached the same money-making heights as “Batman” until he moved into voicework, lending his talents to Disney/Pixar’s “Cars” in 2006. He voiced Chick Hicks, a green race car with a mustache who frequently loses his patience with his longtime rival, Strip Weathers aka The King, voiced by Richard Petty. The animated film achieved immense commercial success, grossing more than $460 million worldwide and receiving nominations for two Academy Awards including best animated feature. Then he kept the Disney/Pixar relationship strong by voicing iconic toy doll Ken in “Toy Story 3.” The acclaimed sequel won two Oscars and grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, making it one of the most financially successful films ever.
Following roles in 2010’s “The Other Guys” and 2014’s “RoboCop” remake, Michael Keaton had a massive comeback as the lead in the critically acclaimed drama “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” in 2014. He starred alongside Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts as Riggan Thomson, a screen actor famous for playing the titular iconic superhero, who puts on a Broadway play to regain his former glory. The film was praised for its screenplay, direction, cinematography and performances and raked in more than $103 million worldwide. “I actually thought [‘Birdman’] might not work, but I also thought, even if it doesn’t work, I want to be a part of this kind of creativity. I want to be around this,” Michael told The Guardian in 2017. The risk worked, as it won the Academy Award for best picture and earned Michael an Oscar nod. He won a Golden Globe Award for his work as well as an ensemble cast SAG Award.
Backstage at the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in January 2015, Michael Keaton posed with his best actor in a movie musical or comedy Golden Globe, which he took home for his performance in “Birdman.”
Following “Birdman,” Michael Keaton kept his winning streak going by starring in the 2015 biographical drama “Spotlight,” which follows The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team, the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative journalist unit in the United States, and its investigation into cases of widespread and systemic child sex abuse by numerous Roman Catholic priests. Michael, who played the team’s editor, was joined by a winning ensemble that included Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Liev Schreiber and Billy Crudup. Critics lauded the cast’s performances, the film grossed $98 million and it marked another film of Michael’s to win the Academy Award for best picture. The cast also took home a SAG Award for their work. The next year, Michael also headlined the critically praised biopic “The Founder” and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Michael Keaton was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in July 2016.
Michael Keaton posed with songwriter-producer son Sean Douglas and daughter-in-law Rachel Bartov — who was pregnant with Michael’s first grandchild at the time — on the red carpet at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards in February 2017. That night, Michael got to be a proud dad: Sean was nominated for best country song as a writer on Thomas Rhett’s “Die a Happy Man.” Michael discussed the importance of prioritizing family with the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2017, saying, “I always thought I was a father first. I really liked being a father, so it was no problem for me. So you make the sacrifices over the years.”
Michael Keaton made his long-awaited return to superhero films with a villainous performance in 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming” opposite Tom Holland. He played Adrian Toomes aka Vulture, a salvager-turned-arms trafficker who uses a suit with mechanical wings to take on the heroic web-slinger. “People want to draw a parallel, but it’s just another job,” the actor told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2017 about going from one comic book universe to another. “It’s interesting that you go from the superhero to the villain. But it’s just like you have that job, and you have that job, and you have that job. You take them for different reasons.” His performance received praise and the flick raked in more than $880 million worldwide, becoming the second most successful Spider-Man film and one of the year’s highest grossing movies.
In 2020, Michael Keaton made waves as part of the ensemble cast of Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” for Netflix. The legal drama is about seven anti-Vietnam protesters charged with inciting riots in 1968. Michael portrayed Ramsey Clark, the U.S. Attorney General at the time. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” was one of 2020’s best reviewed films and earned six nominations at the 93rd Academy Awards, including best picture. It also won the trophy for outstanding movie cast at the 27th Annual SAG Awards, making Michael the first person to score three wins in that category during his career.
Michael Keaton’s latest film is “The Protégé,” which hit theaters in 2021. The action flick saw him working opposite Maggie Q and Samuel L. Jackson in a role as an evil assassin who’s trying to take down the world’s most skilled contract killer before she gets to him first. Next up for the star? Two projects that will see him revisiting the comic book characters of his past. He’ll appear in the 2022 “Spider-Man” spinoff film “Morbius” opposite Jared Leto, reprising the role of Adrian Toomes. He’ll then bring Bruce Wayne back to life in “The Flash” in late 2022. Michael will play an older version of the character from his “Batman” films who meets the superfast hero in an alternate universe. He told Collider it was “weirdly and ironically easy” stepping back in those shoes. “A little bit emotional. Just a rush of memories,” he said. “Without giving anything away, which I can’t, basically the first shot, not of the entire movie but let’s say the introduction [of Batman], is so good that when we walked on and started talking about a couple of shots and the angles, I went, ‘Whoa, this is big. This is great.’ I don’t even mean for me. Just the imagery, it’s great. And reminiscent, to some degree, of Tim Burton.”