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In the late 1980s, Rourke performed with David Bowie on the Never Let Me Down album.Around the same time he also wrote his first screenplay, Homeboy, a boxing tale in which he starred.Rodriguez was the number one–rated middleweight boxer in the world and was training for his match with world champion Nino Benvenuti.Rourke claims to have received a concussion from his sparring match with Rodriguez.rebel persona" that he projected in Year of the Dragon, 9½ Weeks, Angel Heart, and Desperate Hours.
In 1969 Rourke, then weighing 140 pounds (63.5 kg), sparred with former World Welterweight Champion Luis Rodríguez.
Rourke's performance in the film The Pope of Greenwich Village alongside Daryl Hannah and Eric Roberts also caught the attention of critics, although the film was not financially successful.
In the mid-1980s, Rourke earned himself additional leading roles.
During his appearance on Inside the Actors Studio, after the release of The Wrestler, host James Lipton disclosed that Rourke had been selected to the Actors Studio in his first audition, which Elia Kazan is reported to have said was the "best audition in 30 years".
Appearing primarily in television films during the late 1970s, Rourke made his feature film debut with a small role in Steven Spielberg's 1941.
In the 2008 film The Wrestler, Rourke portrayed a past-his-prime wrestler, and received a 2009 Golden Globe award, a BAFTA award, and a nomination for an Academy Award.