Michael Keaton is a true yinzer. Like his hometown city, Keaton’s career has experienced some ups and downs. His impressive body of acting work has spanned characters as dark as a January day in the city and as workaday as a PAT bus driver. Although a major star, Keaton still has deep Pittsburgh roots.
Keaton was born Michael Douglas on September 5, 1951, in Coraopolis, the youngest of Leona Loftus Douglas and George Douglas’s seven children. He changed his name from Michael Douglas to Michael Keaton when he went to Hollywood because Michael Douglas, son of Kirk Douglas, had already established a career with that name, and talk-show host Mike Douglas was also very well-known. Although some report that he took the name because of Diane Keaton, there is no truth to that.
His father was a civil engineer and his mother a homemaker. When Keaton was small, his family moved to Robinson Township, and like many others in the area, he is of Irish, English, Scottish, and German descent. He was raised a Roman Catholic and graduated from Montour High School. A typical baby of the family, he enjoyed the limelight, and he credits his family as a source of his comedic acting skills, stating that his family was very funny.
After graduation, he attended Kent State University, studying Speech but came back to Pittsburgh after two years to pursue an acting career. He worked as a cab driver and ice cream truck driver while trying to launch a career as a stand-up comedian. He then found work as a TV cameraman at WQED and realized that his true calling was to be in front of the camera.
In 1975, he appeared on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and was also a member of the Flying Zucchini Brothers comedy troupe, which led to his joining Chicago’s Second City improvisational group. The late 1970s brought a move to Los Angeles and appearances on Maude, Family, and the Mary Tyler Moore Hour, as well as two short-lived sitcoms: All’s Fair and Working Stiffs.
Although he landed another sitcom role in 1982 in Report to Murphy, which lasted only six weeks before being cancelled, that year proved to be his breakthrough. Keaton landed a starring role in the hit movie Night Shift, in which he co-starred with Henry Winkler and Shelly Long. His portrayal of a wacky morgue worker brought him critical acclaim.
Mr. Mom, a comedy about a stay-at-home dad in 1983, catapulted Keaton to box office stardom. It also gave us the memorable quote about electrical work: “ 220 . . . 221, whatever it takes. “ His career for the next few years was a roller coaster ride of peaks and valleys. He hit the heights again with his memorable portrayal of the demon Betelgeuse in Beetle Juice and the drama Clean and Sober in 1988. These followed so-so films like Johnny Dangerously and Gung Ho, which was filmed in Western Pennsylvania.
In 1989, Keaton found himself embroiled in controversy when he landed the title role of Batman. Fans of the comic book series thought Keaton miscast, but his brooding, edgy portrayal of the caped crusader won over both fans and critics. He reprised the role in 1992 with Batman Returns, but abandoned the cowl and cape, leaving the role to be filled later by Val Kilmer, George Clooney, and Christian Bale.
Aside from Pacific Heights in 1990, Keaton, during the next decade and a half, continued to make films, but none with the success of those in the late 1980s. In 2004, he hosted a PBS special, Mr. Rogers: America’s Favorite Neighbor, and in 2006, he did the voice work for Chick Hicks in the animated film Cars as well as Ken in Toy Story 3.
Keaton was married to actress Caroline McWilliams, who was best known for her roles as Marcy Hill in the TV show Benson and Sally on the show Soap. They were married from 1982 to 1990 and had one child together, a son, Sean Douglas, who was born in 1983. Keaton was romantically linked to Courtney Cox from 1989 to 1995.
While Keaton has worked on a variety of projects during the last few years, it is his most recent film, Birdman, that has, once again, found him shooting to the top of Hollywood stardom. His critically acclaimed portrayal of the life of a washed-up super-hero actor who is trying to revive his failing career with a stint on Broadway has generated a lot of Oscar buzz.
These days Keaton lives on his Montana ranch, but he remains true to his hometown. He is an avid Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates fan and often can be seen at those games cheering on the black and gold. In fact, during the final months of the Pirates 2013 season, he wrote a blog on the team for ESPN. Having grown up near Pittsburgh’s three rivers, it’s no wonder that he is also an avid fisherman and can be seen on the fishing series Buccaneers & Bones on the Outdoor Channel.
Like Pittsburgh, which has seen recession and renaissance, Keaton has been in the pit and at the pinnacle of stardom. No doubt whatever the future holds, Keaton will draw on his Pittsburgh roots and ultimately come out on top, because after all he really is a yinzer.
By Jan Palko