The youngest of nine kids, Mark Wahlberg grows up in Boston's working-class Dorchester neighborhood. Though big brother Donnie, of New Kids on the Block, tries to look out for his little brother, Wahlberg steals cars, sells pot and is charged with assaulting a man with a wooden pole, which results in the 17-year-old serving a 45-day prison term. "I wanted to be the cool guy in the neighborhood, to be what I thought was a badass," he tells NPR years later.
After a brief stint with NKOTB ("Going to vocal lessons and doing the choreography just wasn't my thing," he says), Wahlberg forms his hip-hop group, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Brother Donnie produces some tracks, and their single, "Good Vibrations," tops the Billboard Hot 100. "We just wanted to do an album together, just us," Donnie tells PEOPLE at the time. "Any Top 10 success is just icing on the cake." Adds Mark, "This record has brought us back together."
With his music career already on the decline, Wahlberg – still going by Marky Mark – gets another shot at fame by flexing his fab abs in a series of provocative Calvin Klein ads, some costarring a topless Kate Moss. "He was a pleasure," the designer said of his tough boy muse. Wahlberg's willingness to bare almost-all gains him an international following and lands him on PEOPLE's 50 Most Beautiful.
Wahlberg jumps into the movies, teaming up with Danny DeVito in the comedy Renaissance Man. "[Director Penny Marshall] basically told me that I was already acting and wasn't fooling anybody, so why don't I give it a shot?" he later tells NPR. The budding actor racks up film credits with 1995's Basketball Diaries, costarring Leonardo DiCaprio, and the 1996 thriller Fear, opposite Reese Witherspoon.
Hello, Dirk Diggler! Wahlberg earns raves for his, ahem, very big role as a well-endowed porn star in the 1970s-era film Boogie Nights. "I'm not a huge fan of the adult film industry," Wahlberg later tells Charlie Rose. "But I read [the script] and it was just phenomenal."
After starring together in 1998's The Big Hit, Wahlberg and actress China Chow step out as a couple. "I asked her out, and she said no," he says of their early romance, with the actress later crediting her then-beau for pulling her through the laborious shoot.
Wahlberg's tough-guy image softens a little when he and girlfriend Rhea Durham welcome their first child, daughter Ella Rae. "[Fatherhood] changes your life for the better," he tells PEOPLE. "I want to do some great work now, some interesting movies, and then be going to school plays and soccer games."
The actor turns executive producer, loosely parlaying the story of his life into HBO's megahit Entourage, a sexy series about a rising Hollywood star and his three best buddies. "My assistant wanted to film my friends around me, because he just thought it was hilarious," Wahlberg tells The New York Times of the show's concept.
For his performance as a Boston detective in Martin Scorsese's The Departed, Wahlberg earns his first Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. "Marty encouraged me to push the envelope, especially in scenes with the other guys," Wahlberg tells Variety. "After a take, he would ask if everybody was all right. Then he'd whisper for me to do a little more. I loved that."
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Getty; Bernhard Kuhmstedt/Retna; Globe; Everett; Everett; Ron Galella/WireImage; Everett; Sunset Photo and News; Mike Guastella/WireImage; Warner Bros.