In middle school, Clooney develops Bell's palsy, a debilitating condition that partially paralyzes the face. While suffering from the malady – it went away within a year – his left eye closes and he is unable to eat or drink properly, earning the nickname Frankenstein. "That was the worst time of my life," he tells the Mirror in 2003. "You know how cruel kids can be. I was mocked and taunted, but the experience made me stronger."
Clooney drops out of college after his cousin and friend Miguel Ferrer, the son of Clooney's famous aunt, singer Rosemary Clooney, comes to Lexington to make a low-budget movie about horse racing. After landing a small role in the film, Clooney makes the decision to give acting a shot full-time, moving to L.A. the following year.
In a weird bit of foreshadowing, Clooney lands his first regular television role in the short-lived CBS ensemble comedy E/R, in which he plays Ace, a young doctor recently reassigned to emergency room duty in a Chicago hospital. The following year, Clooney and his timely mullet join the cast of the all-female sitcom The Facts of Life for a two-season run as carpenter George Burnett.
Clooney lives in a Hollywood Hills home with girlfriend Kelly Preston and buys her a black potbellied piglet he names Max. After the couple breaks up the following year, Clooney continues to raise Max – even letting the pig sleep in bed with him. After 18 years, Max dies in 2006. "He was as old a pig as the vets had ever seen," Clooney tells USA Today.
Just months after his breakup with Preston, Clooney and actress Talia Balsam head to Vegas in a Winnebago and get married. The couple, who dated a short time in 1984 before getting hitched, would divorce three years later. "I probably – definitely – wasn't someone who should have been married at that point," Clooney tells Vanity Fair. "I just don't feel like I gave Talia a fair shot."
After appearing in five episodes of Baby Talk, the TV version of Look Who's Talking, Clooney quits. According to witnesses, Clooney stands up for an actress he feels is being unfairly humiliated. "I remember calling my agent and I said, 'What happens if I walk away from this? Do I end my career now?'" Clooney recalls to PEOPLE. "And my agent was honest with me. He said, 'I don't know.' And I thought, 'You know what? It's worth it.'"
Clooney premieres in his breakout role as Dr. Doug Ross on ER. The hospital drama becomes America's top-rated show, and Clooney's nominated for an Outstanding Lead Actor Emmy in 1995 and 1996. Typically self-deprecating, Clooney tells PEOPLE, "I can be a schmuck all day long, at the end of it save some old lady's life and still be a hero. If you stuck a mannequin in my part, he'd get all the fan mail."
Putting B-movie duds Return to Horror High (1987) and Return of the Killer Tomatoes! (1988) behind him, Clooney builds a new film career starring alongside Quentin Tarantino and Salma Hayek in the shoot-'em-up action flick From Dusk Till Dawn (left) and in the romantic comedy One Fine Day with Michelle Pfeiffer.
While filming The Peacemaker in Paris, Clooney meets 23-year-old waitress Celine Balitran. A few months later the French law student follows him to L.A., and they continue to date until 1999. "When I have to get up early, he insists I wake him," Balitran tells PEOPLE. "It's out of the question to start the day without having breakfast together. We wake up in each other's arms, and we can't wait for evening to be together again."
A huge superhero fan as a kid, Clooney donned his first Batsuit as a 3-year-old. It's a much bigger deal when he takes over the dual role of Batman/Bruce Wayne from Val Kilmer in Batman and Robin. The actor tells the Chicago Sun-Times, ''I am the only superhero who can kick someone's butt and then dress their wounds.''
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): SPLASH NEWS; NBC/Photofest; Neal Preston/Corbis; Phil Roach/IPOL; GLOBE; Kobal Collection/Wireimage; Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic; Christine Loss/MPTV