Actor, director, producer, writer. Born George Timothy Clooney on May 6, 1961, in Lexington, Kentucky. Clooney comes from a well-known family of media and entertainment personalities. His father, Nick, spent many years as a television personality and news anchor. His aunt, Rosemary Clooney, had a long career as a singer and actress.
Due to the nature of his father’s work, George Clooney and his older sister Ada moved several times to various locations throughout Kentucky and Ohio with their parents. In 1974, they settled down for good in a rambling, old Victorian home in downtown Augusta, Kentucky, a small town on the Ohio River about an hour south of Cincinnati.
There, despite some name recognition, the Clooneys led a fairly modest life. They were a close-knit family, with Nick Clooney making sure to carve time out of his busy schedule in Cincinnati to be home in the evenings for dinner. At the Clooney supper table, the family often discussed current events. Nick, a true newsman, had grown up in awe of men like CBS news anchor Edward R. Murrow and, later, Walter Cronkite.
Exposed to the entertainment industry at a young age, Clooney made his first television appearance at five years old, playing sketch characters on the local talk shows his dad hosted. In middle school, however, Clooney struggled with his talent for expression when he developed Bell’s palsy, which causes partial facial paralysis. He eventually recovered from the illness.
In school, Clooney was more focused on sports than books, but still managed to be a good student. “I pulled out my report cards…I had all A’s and a B,” the actor told Esquire magazine. A fairly good baseball player, he managed to land a tryout with the Cincinnati Reds at the age of 16. A baseball contract, however, never materialized.
Clooney eventually opted for college. Staying close to home, he attended Northern Kentucky University, where he studied broadcast journalism. But Clooney didn’t last long at college. He didn’t think he had what it took to become a good television journalist, and he hated the constant comparisons to his father. He dropped out of school in 1981, without a thought as to what he would do next.
Clooney stuck around the Cincinnati area for a while, finding work as a shoe salesman and later as a farmhand picking tobacco. He had been harvesting tobacco when he got a call from his his cousin, Miguel Ferrer, the son of Rosemary Clooney and Oscar winner Jose Ferrer. Miguel and his father were making a film in Kentucky about horse racing, and Ferrer offered Clooney a little acting work. Clooney hung around the set for a good three months, where he worked as an extra and even landed a few lines. To make extra money, he loaned his old Monte Carlo to his uncle and cousin for $50 a day. The movie never got released, but the experience gave Clooney the acting bug again.
Encouraged by his cousin Miguel, Clooney decided to move to Los Angeles to become an actor when the movie shoot was over. “I had just spent the summer cutting tobacco, which is a miserable job. So that’s what made me move to Hollywood,” Clooney later told Esquire. To make ends meet, he picked up whatever work he could find. He even ran errands for his aunt and chauffeured her around town.
Slowly parts came, even if they weren’t the kind of roles he dreamed about. He landed a recurring role on the popular teen comedy The Facts of Life, from 1985 to 1987. From 1988 to 1991, Clooney also made guest appearances on the dysfunctional family sitcom Roseanne. In 1992, he starred in the short-lived series Bodies of Evidence, playing a detective. On the drama Sisters, he played another detective and the love interest for Sela Ward’s character. There were small movie roles, too, including the part of a lip-synching transvestite in a 1993 thriller called The Harvest.
Clooney worked steadily in Hollywood, but he had yet to land a significant career breakthrough. Feeling that he was always on the cusp of something bigger, something greater, Clooney found his situation difficult. “I had a work ethic,” he told The New Yorker in 2007. “I was making a couple of hundred grand a year, which is beating all the odds, so you don’t really think things are going terribly. You actually feel like you’re succeeding. [But] I wished I was doing better projects, and I didn’t think I was going to get that chance.”
All that changed in 1994, when Clooney was cast in a new NBC medical drama called ER. Clooney played Dr. Doug Ross, a caring pediatrician and a notorious ladies man, in the ensemble drama, which also featured Anthony Edwards, Julianna Margulies, and Sherry Stringfield. Soon after its September 1994 debut, Clooney was on his way to becoming one of the show’s breakout stars, attracting the attention of film industry movers and shakers. His classic good looks and easygoing charm made him a natural for the big screen.
Clooney worked at a hectic pace, managing to appear in several films during his time on ER. He battled evil vampires with Quentin Tarantino in Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk to Dawn(1996). In the romantic comedyOne Fine Day(1996), Clooney played a divorced father who falls for a single mother (Michelle Pfeiffer). Assuming the role of the caped crusader, Clooney starred as Batman in the summer blockbuster Batman & Robin(1997), which eventually netted more than $107 million. The following year, Clooney starred opposite Jennifer Lopez in Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight(1998). He also had a role in Terrence Malick’s war drama The Thin Red Line.