Bloom, 4, loses the man he believes is his father, South African antiapartheid activist Harry Bloom. In 1990, Bloom's mother Sonia tells him that family friend Colin Stone – one of Harry's law students – is his biological father. "Think about finding out when you're 13 that your dad is not your dad," he tells Details in 2007. "It's like, okay, take it on the chin and keep going. No choice, really."
After struggling with dyslexia through Canterbury High School, Bloom, 16, drops out and moves to London to join the National Youth Theatre. In 1998, while studying at London's esteemed Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Bloom makes his film debut with a bit part in the Oscar Wilde biopic Wilde. Afterwards, he returns to school to finish up his three-year training.
Trying to reach a rooftop terrace with friends, Bloom falls three stories when the drainpipe he is climbing collapses. He breaks several vertebrae in his back and is paralyzed for four days. Though doctors warn him it could be permanent, he walks out of the hospital weeks later in a back brace, thanks to physical therapy. "That accident has informed everything in my life," he tells GQ. "Until then, I didn't have a healthy appreciation for life and death – that we're not invincible."
After graduating from Guildhall, Bloom heads to New Zealand to play the blond elfin sharpshooter Legolas in director Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings. The film grosses more than $313 million when it opens in 2001.
Black Hawk Down, which Bloom shot in Morocco, hits theaters about the same time LOTR comes out. Bloom has a minor role as a soldier in the film, which is about the U.S. Army's ill-fated rescue mission in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993.
After meeting Blue Crush beauty Kate Bosworth on the set of a Gap ad, Bloom begins dating the actress. "I'm in love with love," he tells a British reporter in 2004, according PEOPLE. "It's heavenly when you're falling for someone and can't stop thinking about her."
Bloom shoots the first installment of Pirates of the Caribbean with Johnny Depp, who acts as a mentor of sorts. "It was great to see how he goes about living his life," Bloom tells PEOPLE in 2004. "He surpassed all my expectations as a human being, let alone as an actor."
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl hits theaters. The movie eventually grosses more than $300 million, and Bloom signs on for two more. But, at the end of the year, Bloom's other franchise ends. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, the trilogy's final installment, makes $73 million its opening weekend. "It was sad when we pulled our ears off for the very last time," Bloom tells PEOPLE.
Bloom is named one of PEOPLE's 50 Most Beautiful People and listed as having the Most Wanted Nose. "His nose is strong, but it works with his face," a plastic surgeon says. In November, Bloom is named PEOPLE's Sexiest Man Alive. "The heartthrob thing is just recently becoming apparent to me," he tells the magazine. "I hope it won't stop me from making more interesting choices."
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): REX USA; Columbia Pictures/Everett; Jeff Vespa/WireImage; Jim Smeal/WireImage; Disney