Jim Carrey

updated 12/26/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/26/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

In Jim Carrey, a star wasn't so much born as let off his leash. For 15 years he worked comedy clubs, Vegas and TV shows like In Living Color, but such stages only restrained the Canadian-born dervish. Film finally set him free. In the surprise smash Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and his follow-up hit The Mask, Carrey, 32, found room to cut loose with his spring-hinged limbs and Silly Putty face. The result: Carrey became the first bankable movie buffoon since Robin Williams—and the inspiration for two Halloween costumes. Reflecting on his new status, Carrey said, "Society is a lot more twisted than I thought."

Not really. The Letterman-esque archness of today's comedy left an opening for Carrey's physical humor. And audiences identify with his characters: angry guys fighting the system. His work, Carrey suggests, draws on his own childhood frustrations. His father, Percy, who had given up a career playing jazz sax for a safe job as an accountant, was laid off after 30 years. The suddenly poor family lived in a camper in Toronto. Carrey quit high school and, with his parents and two of his three siblings, did janitorial work to survive.

Bills are no longer a worry. The actor, who got $350,000 for Ace, received $5 million to play the Riddler in the forthcoming Batman Forever. His price was $7 million for the new Dumb and Dumber.

Carrey's success had its costs, though, starting with his seven-year marriage to Melissa Womer, 34, with whom he has a daughter, Jane, 7. He was, he admits, a less than sterling spouse. "It's like, 'I just came back from the moon, so don't ask me to take the garbage out,' " he said. Carrey recently split with his D&Der costar Lauren Holly, of CBS's Picket Fences—but claims to be less obnoxious, thanks to what he calls the Eugene syndrome, a reference to his middle name. "I figured my parents called me that to keep me humble," he explained. "You can never get too cool with a name like Eugene."

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