If sportswriters won’t vote suspected steroid-using players into the Baseball Hall of Fame, will the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences put an Oscar in the bulky hands of possible juicer?
The potential collision of the other national pastime – the movies – and steroids reared its ugly, no-necked head in a Men’s Journal profile of Mickey Rourke, who just won the Best Actor Golden Globe for his comeback role as a demon-plagued, washed-up grappler in “The Wrestler,” and is considered a strong Academy Award contender.
Rourke reportedly packed on 35 pounds of muscle for the part, eating seven meals daily and working out twice a day with a former Israeli cage fighter. But when journalist Amy Wallace asked the 52-year-old actor if he also used steroids or human growth hormone, "…he smiles conspiratorially and says, 'When I’m a wrestler, I behave like a wrestler.'”
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Rourke's coy comment was revealed this week at the same time that superstar pitcher Roger Clemens is getting set for a grand jury probe into his alleged lying to Congress about taking illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
Meanwhile, slugger Mark McGwire, who refused to directly address steroid use during the 2005 Congressional hearings, failed this week to make the Hall of Fame for the third straight year, getting 21.9% of vote. It was the lowest total yet for McGwire, who slammed 583 home runs, 70 of them in one season.
Baseball hasn’t yet exorcised itself of its steroid devils. All-time home run king Barry Bonds is under indictment on perjury charges and involuntarily jobless. Seeming Hall of Fame shoe-ins like Bonds and Clemens could face McGwire-like rejection as they become eligible for baseball’s biggest honor.
But will the steroid talk hurt Rourke with Oscar voters – or could it actually help him?
The Rourke arc – brash, talented newcomer to obnoxious washout to wise-and-wizened triumphant return -- could prove irresistible to movie folks who love a good backstory, and see parallels to the actor’s life and career in the film.
Maybe some critics will consider the possibility of steroid use as the ultimate method actor’s devotion – sacrificing the body for art. And, of course, Hollywood’s never been exactly holier-than-thou on drug use, at least when it comes to the recreational variety.
As Rourke showed in “The Wrestler,” America loves its anti-heroes as much as its heroes – in these times, maybe even more.
Mickey Rourke's Golden Globes Acceptance Speech:
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.