One of the most time-honored traditions of the Oscars is the redemptive quality of its nominations process. Talent who’ve hit the the skids over the years through their own bad decisions personally and/or professionally can suddenly find their careers revived because of Academy Award attention from their peers. Such is the situation this year with Mickey Rourke and Fox Searchlight’s The Wrestler. Which is why that recent New York Times Magazine profile of him was so unfair. For a newspaper that rarely examines anything Oscar with a cynical eye, this is usually a slam dunk bit of heartwarming PR: actor squanders great promise, gets written off by the Industry, then gives a wonderful performance, and gets the recognition that was long overdue. Instead, the NYT decided to go a different way: investigate every claim that came out of Rourke’s mouth in order to expose him as a kind of whacked-out con man who’s “spent his entire adult life playing not fictional characters but an idealized delusional fantasy of himself”. It’s hard to imagine, say, the NYT writing as negatively about Sean Penn or Frank Langella. But that’s because the class-conscious newspaper of record doesn’t place Rourke, long a fixture of straight-to-video feature films, in the same thesp elite category. But, worse, the mag went about this bit of character assassination badly.
One of the most controversial aspects of the piece is the treatment of Rourke’s claim that he suffered abuse at the hands of his stepfather and the way that it affected his entire life. “Rourke’s eyes teared up again. He didn’t speak for a long moment. Then he said: ‘It began before my acting. When my mother divorced my father, she remarried a brutal man… I should have stood up to him more. Not be a victim. But I was only 7 years old.’ Thus was born Rourke’s life-long sense of shame that he claimed he tried to expiate through his tough-guy persona both on the screen and in his real life. ‘It took my whole life to forgive myself for calling him Daddy,’ Rourke said. ‘I took it out on everyone else and became hard.’ So the NYT-assigned writer then sought out the stepfather, who denied almost every detail of Rourke’s description of his childhood, including the abuse allegations.
But the question is, why didn’t the NYT explore further? It’s now apparant that the paper never went to Rourke’s other family members to confirm or deny the abuse. Which is why I’ve received an exclusive statement from Rourke’s sister Patty Rourke and stepsister Janet Smalley whose father is the accused abuser. Both siblings express how distressed they are with The New York Times Magazine article for insinuating that Rourke lied about the abuse.
“We were shocked and deeply saddened to read Pat Jordan’s overtly biased piece about our brother Mickey Rourke in The New York Times Magazine. Although our childhood is searingly painful to discuss, we absolutely needed to speak out to set the record straight. Tragically, what our brother has said about his abusive childhood barely scratches the surface of what really happened. If Pat Jordan had tried to contact us, we would’ve told him the truth. We love Mickey very much and stand by his account of our early years.” — Patty Rourke & Janet Smalley