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Mark Wahlberg - Biography

Despite a controversial history, Mark Wahlberg has gone onto become one of Hollywood's highest paid actors

Mark Wahlberg - Biography
Bryony Gooch
US Writer
Updated: 7 December 2023
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When Marky Mark changed his name back to Mark Wahlberg and swapped the music world for the big screen, many scoffed at the idea of a washed up rapper thinking he could act. But he had the last laugh.

The American star proved doubters wrong from the start, eventually ending up as an Oscar-nominated star and world-class producer – while still in his 30s.

Early life

Mark Robert Michael Wahlberg was born on June 5, 1971 in the working class Boston district of Dorchester. He was the youngest of nine children to Alma Elaine - a bank clerk and nurse's assistant - and Donald Edward Wahlberg, a Teamster (a US trade union member) who worked as a delivery driver. The actor's parents divorced when he was 11, and the young Mark went off the rails. 

Legal issues

By age 14 he had dropped out of school and had problems with drug addictions and was regularly in trouble with the police. At 16, the troubled youth was convicted of assaulting two Vietnamese men he was trying to steal beer from. He spent 45 days in jail for the offence, and says that experience changed his life. 

"I was there, locked up with the kind of guys I'd always wanted to be like," he remembers of the time. "I realised it wasn't what I wanted at all. I'd ended up in the worst place I could possibly imagine and I never wanted to go back. First of all I had to learn to stay on the straight and narrow." 

With the support of his parish priest, Mark – who is a devout Catholic - turned his back on crime, severing his links with his street gang. 

Music career

Also helping him find a new direction in his life was his brother Donnie – who was then famous as a member of boyband New Kids on the Block. Mark had been one of the original members aged 13, but quit over his reservations about the group's squeaky-clean image. Donnie thought his brother's look, background and attitude gave him the right credentials to be a rap artist. So he set up meetings with record company execs, and soon Mark began recording under the name Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. 

His debut album, Music for the People was a smash hit that eventually went platinum. Teenage girls couldn't get enough of Mark, who had a buff new physique after getting into working out in jail. And his willingness to strip down to his boxer shorts while on stage didn't hurt either - something that soon landed him the job of Calvin Klein's chief underwear model. At the start of the Nineties the media was full of stories concerning the rapper's bad boy antics – including a fight with Madonna and her entourage. 

And the musician fell out of favour with the public when news of his earlier arrest for assault surfaced. There were also accusations of a racist motive, something Mark denies. His second album – which hadn't been doing so well anyway – bombed out of the charts. Attempting to salvage his career, his recording company tried to push him down a more commercial route, but his heart wasn't in it. Mark decided to wait out his contract – which meant six long years before he could take his business elsewhere. 

Acting career

It was at this point the star decided to try his hand at acting, after director Penny Marshall persuaded him he could really be good at it. At the time, he remembers: "It was the last thing I wanted to do." But with nothing else on his plate, he thought he would give it a go. After spending 20 weeks filming Renaissance Man - in which he delivered a convincing performance as a tough-talking soldier from a trailer park – Mark caught the acting bug. "I truly felt like I'd found my calling, " he remembers. 

He put his heart and soul into his new profession, churning out one great role after another. He played Leonardo DiCaprio's best friend in The Basketball Diaries and scared audiences with his portrayal of a psychotic boyfriend in Fear.But the part that made the critics really sit up and take notice was when he played the protagonist of Boogie Nights - a look at the Seventies porn scene. His metamorphosis from reclusive youngster Eddie Adams into ego-driven porn star Dirk Diggler showed off his range of abilities brilliantly. After that he was firmly in demand – starring with big name stars like George Clooney – with whom he appeared in Three Kings and A Perfect Storm - and Dustin Hoffman, Jude Law and Naomi Watts – who made up the ensemble cast of 2004 flick I heart Huckabees.

There were a few box office misses on the way, but award recognition came calling when he teamed up with Leonardo again on Martin Scorsese film The Departed in 2006. It earned him a Golden globe nod and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. But more than that – it allowed him to form a bond to the critically acclaimed director which would see them working together on Boardwalk Empire. He didn't appear in it, but instead Mark produced the highly praised gangster series. It hit screens in the US in 2010, but before that he already made a name for himself as a successful producer with Entourage, How to make it in America and In Treatment.

He also proved his chops for dramatic roles as he played Jack Salmon, the father of the protagonist, Susie, in Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones.

That's not to say Mark has turned his back on acting. In 2010 he filmed his first comedy - The Good Guys, opposite Will Ferrell and won widespread acclaim - and another Golden Globe nod - for his portrayal of boxer "Irish" Mickey Ward. The actor trained for four years to get the muscular physique for the film, often getting up at 4.30am to fit in training around other film roles. 

Clearly finding his feet in comic roles, he starred in Seth MacFarlane's Tead and reunited with Will Ferrell for the film Daddy's Home. Years after originally being cast to play Nathan Drake in the Uncharted film, Mark took on the role as Victor Sullivan.

With numerous blockbusters under his belt, Mark has consistently remained one of the world's highest paid actors.

Personal life

Early on in his career Mark dated Reese Witherspoon and China Chow – his co-star from The Big Hit. But ultimately there was only one woman for him – model Rhea Durham. The couple got married in August 2009 after dating for eight years, and are parents to four children. Ella Rae was born on September 2, 2003, and Michael Robert arrived three years later on March 21. Two more years went by before they added to their family again with Brendan Joseph, born September 16, 2008. And Grace Margaret made her appearance on January 11, 2010.

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