Born in England in 1943, Malcolm McDowell made his feature film debut with If... in 1968. He rose to fame as the star of the violent but acclaimed A Clockwork Orange (1971) and played the titular character of the notoriously pornographic Caligula (1979). Oft typecast as a villain, McDowell nevertheless delivered memorable performances in My Life So Far (1999) and Gangster No. 1 (2000). He also regularly worked as a voice actor for cartoons and later enjoyed prominent roles on the TV series Franklin & Bash and Mozart in the Jungle.
Childhood and Acting Background
Malcolm McDowell was born Malcolm John Taylor on June 13, 1943, in Leeds, England, to parents Charles and Edna. Charles owned a pub in Liverpool, where Malcolm eventually became familiar with a band on the rise called the Beatles.
Sent away to boarding school, Malcolm realized he had a love for theater and appeared in numerous school productions. He initially worked for his dad and as a traveling coffee salesman after graduation, but eventually he successfully auditioned for the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. He changed his last name to avoid confusion with another actor and moved to London to perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Rise to Fame
Malcolm McDowell landed a part in a production of Poor Cow (1967) that was edited out of the final film, but he soon made his mark as rebellious schoolboy Mick Travis in Lindsay Anderson's If... (1968). The film shocked the establishment with its violent scenes, its tone heightened by McDowell's penetrating gaze and malevolent smirk.
Those attributes captured the attention of director Stanley Kubrick, who cast McDowell for the role of gang leader Alex DeLarge in his adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange. The resulting film, released in 1971, eclipsed the shock value of If... with its brutal rape and torture scenes. Despite the uproar it engendered, A Clockwork Orange garnered several Academy Award nominations, as well as a Golden Globe nomination for its star.
McDowell reunited with Anderson for O Lucky Man! (1973), playing a transformed version of Mick Travis in a film derived from his experiences as a coffee salesman. He subsequently starred as Captain Flashman in the adventure comedy Royal Flash (1975) and as writer H.G. Wells in the sci-fi flick Time After Time (1979). However, his efforts from that period were overshadowed by his lead role in Caligula (1979), a film that became notorious for its hard-core pornographic scenes, which led to legal problems when the film was released in the United States.
Mid-Career Ups and Downs
The disaster of Caligula seemed to mark the start of a more tumultuous period for McDowell. He divorced his first wife, actress and publicist Margot Bennett, and battled addictions to cocaine and alcohol. But there were personal and professional successes too: McDowell remarried, to actress Mary Steenburgen, in 1980, and completed the Mick Travis saga with Anderson's Britannia Hospital in 1982. The following year, he delivered a standout performance as an aging, Mick Jagger–type rocker in Get Crazy.
By the early 1990s McDowell had divorced and remarried again, this time to photographer Kelley Kuhr, and found himself typecast in villainous roles. Still, he delivered strong performances in European films such as Assassin of the Tsar (1991) and in Morgan Freeman's directorial debut, Bopha! (1993). He also infamously starred in Star Trek: Generations (1994) as the character who kills William Shatner's Captain Kirk.
McDowell also began branching out into voice work, contributing to such cartoons as Batman: The Animated Series and Captain Planet and the Planeteers, as well as the Wing Commander video game and TV series. Although he starred in several forgettable features during this time, he closed out the decade on a high note in the well-received My Life So Far (1999).
New Millennium, New Fans
Revisiting the sort of violent, sadistic characters that made him famous, McDowell shined as an aging thug in Gangster No. 1 (2000) and as a serial killer in Evilenko (2004). Later in the decade, he starred as Dr. Loomis in Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween (2007) and Halloween 2 (2009), and landed the voice role of Grandpa Fletcher on the animated series Phineas and Ferb.
The media attention surrounding the 40th anniversary of A Clockwork Orange allowed McDowell and his fans to reflect on his life's work and provided a late-career boost. He delivered a brief but memorable performance in the Academy Award–winning silent film The Artist (2011), and the following year was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
McDowell continued to appear on the big screen and enjoyed a regular gig on the legal comedy Franklin & Bash. Showing he still had the touch for finding interesting projects, he became a key cast member of the Golden Globe–winning series Mozart in the Jungle in 2014, playing an aging music conductor forced to step aside for a dazzling young talent.
Back on the big screen in 2016, McDowell starred in the comedy Walk of Fame.
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