|George Clooney has been making pulses race ever since his days as Dr.
Ross. But theres much more to this intense, outspoken
actor/director/writer/producer than meets the eye
George Clooney, dressed in trainers and a black t-shirt, is upbeat,
despite recovering from recent spinal surgery. I was down for a bit,
he says. I had terrible headaches and nobody knew what it was, so I
got quite worried. I was thinking what the hell is going on in my
head? The doctors would tell me to rest. Finally, they realized what
it was and I was operated on. He points to a pink vertical scar at the
nape of his neck.
Im gettin old, fallin apart, he says glibly. Things hurt me now.
My knees hurt, my back hurts. But your head still thinks its 23. I was in
a bar and I said to a friend, You know, weve become those [middle-aged]
guys we used to look at and say, Isnt it sad?
Dont feel too sad for Mr. Clooney. Hes on the mend after a second surgery and is still a star of the first magnitude, having generated over $126 million in box office receipts in 2004, with a career total estimated at over $1.2 billion.
Not bad for a guy who once starred on The Facts of Life as Tooties crush.
While Hollywood is panicking about a huge downturn in movie attendance, George Clooney can still pack em in. He has been favorably compared to Clark Gable and Cary Grant for his combination of elegance and virility. True, George may be one of Hollywoods irrepressible good-time guys. He has a rakish wit and is a compulsive practical jokester whose pranks are often quite elaborate. But the former TV actor has managed to achieve both commercial success and artistic credibility without becoming egomaniacal, pretentious or jaded. Hes still the most approachable movie star around, eager to share the fruits of his success with those who have been his friends for decades. An outspoken liberal, Clooney even garners the praise of conservative TV evangelist Pat Robertson, who lauds Georges hard work to raise money to combat global poverty and effuses hes a good guy. I like him.
Early affliction shaped his destiny
Born on May 6, 1961 in Maysville, Kentucky, to parents Nick and Nina,
George Timothy Clooney and his family moved around a lot when he was a
child, living in five different cities in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky,
where he attended eight different schools. Beginning at age five,
George helped out on his dads local Cincinnati talk show, by pitching
products and playing sketch characters like a leprechaun or Easter
Bunny. He later served as the floor manager.
But something that happened when he was 12 was to influence his
personality and the way he coped with the world. George got Bells
Palsy, a disorder with stroke-like symptoms, thatparalyzed the left
side of his face. It scared the hell out of me, he admits, and made
him the butt of jokes at his new school. Just days before the illness
struck he and his dad were watching a Saturday matinee The Pride of
the Yankees in which Gary Cooper portrayed Lou Gehrig and his
struggle with the disease that came to be named for him. Clooney sobbed
as the bat fell out of Gehrigs hands in the movie. The next day, the
Clooneys were in church. We were up in the balcony, and suddenly my
tongue got numb, he shudders. Then they went out to eat and when he
tried to drink a glass of milk, it poured out of the side of his mouth.
I was convinced I had Lou Gehrigs disease, he admits. The illness
lasted for a year, during which George learned to cope with the taunts
of classmates by employing humor and acting daft.
Thats my 12- year-old self, he says. If I live up to your
expectations, will you let me be me? Ill be anyone you want and Ill
go on being him til I can be who I really am.
George specialized in Nat King Cole impersonations and providing the
punchlines to his fathers more risqué jokes. Rather poignant, dont
you think? he asks dryly.
When he was 16, he tried out for the Cincinnati Reds baseball team, but
was rejected. I only lacked skill, he laughs. That was the only
thing holding me back.
Georges mother was also a big influence in his life. The best lesson
my mom taught me was how to be scrappy, he comments. She was a beauty
queen and had her own television show. But for her birthday, shed buy
herself a table saw. She put a roof on our house. My father great as
he was couldnt pick up a hammer. It was my mom who was up there
pounding the shingles in.
It wasnt until his cousin Miguel Ferrer (Aunt Rosemary Clooneys son)
was in town shooting a movie that never got released that Clooney, then
19, realized his true calling.
In 1982, when he was 21, he worked cutting tobacco to earn enough
money to buy an old beat-up Monte Carlo, which he drove to l.a. in the
hope of becoming an actor. His aunt Rosey let him camp out in her
house. He worked as her handyman and chauffeur, driving her and
co-stars Martha Raye, Helen OConnell and Margaret Whiting around the
u.s. when the four legendary singers toured in 4 Girls 4.
There was nothing sweet and subtle about driving those broads around,
he says, his eyes flashing mischevously. In the backseat, Martha Rae
would shout, Georgie, pull the car over, I have to take a leak!
He remembers standing in the wings with the great Helen OConnell,
holding a tall glass of Smirnoff, and hearing the announcer introducing
her. Shed take the vodka from him, down it straight, glug-glug-glug,
and on shed go, this really beautiful, slender, 70-year-old
songstress. Tangerine... Does a lady proud... He sings it quietly
into his Coca-Cola. One of her greatest hits, he says. You know it?
Every night it was the same. Knock back the vodka, do her three
numbers, then back into the green room until Rosemary Clooney came on
to finish the show and Helen came back into the wings to watch her. It
was a mark of respect, he always thought.
George recalls asking his aunt one night, how come you can still do
it? How come youre better than ever? And she told him it was because
she couldnt do the vocal gymnastics any more, couldnt hit the notes
the way she used to, so she wasnt showing off. Just singing the song,
George, just singing the song, she explained. That was his first
acting lesson. Dont show off. Let the song sing itself. Like someone
whispers, he says, and everyone leans towards them.
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