Hollywood’s history is replete with celebrity feuds. Sean Penn vs Lee Daniels, William Shatner versus George Takei and Vin diesel vs The Rock are a few notable ones to have played-out in public and become fodder for gossip magazines.
The cat fight between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis formed the source material for Ryan Murphy’s ten-part series for Fox. No prizes for guessing the name of the series that involved the two leading ladies from Hollywood’s golden age. Up until a few days ago, no one had an inkling that Hollywood stalwarts Robert De Niro and Mickey Rourke had, for the past 33 years, been nursing their own dormant grudges and issues until Mickey Rourke threatened The Godfather actor in an Instagram post.
It all started when Mickey Rourke took to his Instagram (a post which has since been deleted) and wrote, “Hey Robert De Niro. That’s right, I am talking to you, you big f*& cry baby. A friend of mine just recently told me that a few months back you’re quoted as saying to newspapers, ‘Mickey Rourke’s a liar he talks all kind of shit.” He went further and added, “Listen Mr Tough Guy in the movies, you’re the 1st person that ever called me a liar and it was in a newspaper. Let me tell you something, you punk ass, when I see you I swear to God on my Grandmother, on my brother and all my dogs, I am gonna embarrass you severely 100%.” (sic).
The background to Rourke’s tirade lies in an interview he gave to an Italian TV channel last year in which he mentioned that he lost out on a role in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman because of De Niro. According to The Wrestler star, Martin Scorsese wanted to sign him for the film, which featured Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro. The film’s casting agent allegedly later told his manager that Rourke would not be cast as De Niro was not interested in working with him.
The feud between Rourke and De Niro dates back to 1987 when Rourke was an upcoming star and had just signed on to Alan Parker’s Angel Heart. Though the actual fight started on the set of Angel Heart, there was a prelude to it when the industry started hailing Rourke as the new De Niro in the beginning of 80s. The year was 1980 and director Lawrence Kasdan was looking for a face similar to Robert De Niro for his film Body Heat which featured William Hurt and Kathleen Turner. The search for a third lead culminated with Mickey Rourke being cast in the role of Lewis, a bad boy with a conscience. Critics and viewers alike took notice of the newcomer, whose previous effort had been a blink-and-miss appearance in Michel Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate. The consensus among industry insiders was that the heir to the legendary actor had arrived. The actor reveled in the comparison. Success soon followed, and doyens like Francis Ford Coppola, Barry Levinson and Adrian Lyne opted to feature him in their films.
It was not long before Alan Parker’s Angel Heart, and six years after his breakout film that Mickey Rourke finally got a chance to act with the idol he had adored all his life. Prior to this, Rourke had replaced Robert De Niro in Stuart Rosenberg’s The Pope of the Greenwich village, a film initially written with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in mind. Rourke replaced De Niro, with Eric Roberts stepping in to play the role initially offered to Pacino.
Angel Heart brought Rourke and De Niro together for the first time. Under the baton of Alan Parker, it ticked all the boxes for a blockbuster. It was a dream come true for Mickey Rourke to work alongside De Niro, who he respected, and from whom he learnt a lot about on-set discipline. The 80s was also an era when Rourke took acting very personally, and considered any actor opposite him as a rival and opponent. This tendency annoyed the Taxi Driver actor, and a led him to vent his frustrations to Alan Parker.
This was a bolt from the blue for Rourke. During a moment on set, Rourke announced to De Niro, “I think it’s better if we don’t talk.” This marked the beginning of a silent feud between two superstars which few people had a clue about until Rourke’s interview with an Italian TV channel last year.
Their differences never escalated into a public feud, as the two maintained their distance over the years; but its interesting o speculate what might have happened if matters had come to a head. Raging Bull’s Jake LaMotta vs an actual boxer – truly a Hollywood feud for the ages.