Equally adept at sober drama and over-the-top comedy, Michael Keaton has a knack for giving ordinary guys an unexpected twist. This trait ultimately made him an ideal casting choice for Tim Burton's 1989 Batman, and it has allowed him to play characters ranging from Mr. Mom's discontented stay-at-home dad to Pacific Heights's raging psychopath.
The youngest of seven children, Keaton was born Michael Douglas on September 5th, 1951 in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania on September 9, 1951. After two years of studying speech at Kent State University, he dropped out and moved to Pittsburgh. While working a number of odd jobs--including a stint as an ice cream truck driver--Keaton attempted to build a career as a stand-up comedian, which proved less than successful. He ended up working as a cameraman for the Pittsburgh PBS station, a job that led him to realize he wanted to be in front of the camera, rather than behind it.
Following this realization, Keaton duly moved out to Los Angeles, where he joined the L.A. Branch of Second City and began auditioning. When he started getting work he changed his last name to avoid being confused with the better-known actor of the same name, taking the name "Keaton" after seeing a newspaper article about Diane Keaton. He began acting on and writing for a number of television series, and he got his first big break co-starring with old friend Jim Belushi on the sitcom Working Stiffs (1979). Three years later, he made an auspicious film debut as the relentlessly cheerful owner of a morgue/brothel in Night Shift. The raves he won for his performance carried over to his work the following year in Mr. Mom, and it appeared as though Keaton was on a winning streak. Unfortunately, a series of such mediocre films as Johnny Dangerously (1984) and Gung Ho (1985) followed, and by the time Tim Burton cast him as the titular Beetlejuice in 1988, Keaton's career seemed to have betrayed its early promise.
Beetlejuice proved Keaton's comeback: one of the year's most popular films, it allowed him to do some of his best work in years as the ghoulish, revolting title character. His all-out comic performance contrasted with his work in that same year's Clean and Sober, in which he played a recovering drug addict. The combined impact of these performances put Keaton back in the Hollywood spotlight, a position solidified in 1989 when he starred in Burton's Batman. Initially thought to be a risky casting choice for the title role, Keaton was ultimately embraced by audiences and critics alike, many of whom felt that his slightly skewed everyman appearance and capacity for dark humor made him perfect for the part. He reprised the role with similar success for the film's 1992 sequel, Batman Returns.
Despite the acclaim and commercial profit surrounding Keaton's work in the Batman films, many of his subsequent films during the 1990s proved to be disappointments. My Life (1993), Speechless (1994), and The Paper (1994) were relative failures, despite star casting and name directors, while Multiplicity, a 1996 comedy featuring no less than four clones of the actor, further demonstrated that his name alone couldn't sell a movie. Some of Keaton's most successful work of the 1990s could be found in his roles in two Elmore Leonard adaptations, Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown (1997) and Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight (1998). An ATF agent in the former and Jennifer Lopez's morally questionable boyfriend in the latter, he turned in solid performances as part of a strong ensemble cast in both critically acclaimed films. In 1999, Keaton went back to his behind-the-camera roots, serving as the executive producer for Body Shots.
Keaton continued to act throughout the early 2000s, and starred in Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005) alongside Lindsay Lohan. the actor took on another vehicle-oriented role when he agreed to voice the character of Chris Hicks in Pixar's Cars (2006). In 2010, Keaton voiced the Ken doll in Toy Story 3.
~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi