Michael Caine is one of the most beloved actors in history. From Alfie to Alfred, his career has spanned eight decades, and he's racked up more accolades than we can count. But Hollywood's most charming Cockney has a surprisingly dark history. He's been locked in a cupboard for a weekend, strapped to a bed for days, and experienced a very unusual dinner date with Peter O'Toole—and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
1. His Parents Were Poor
The world welcomed Maurice Joseph Micklewhite Jr. on March 14, 1933. As you might have guessed, he was born in London; specifically, St. Olave's Hospital in Rotherhithe. His working-class parents did everything they could to give their son a good life—but they often had to resort to desperate measures.
2. His Father Did What He Had To
Caine's mother worked as a cook/housekeeper, while his father made his living lugging fish around at the Billingsgate fish market. He came home reeking of fish every day, but at least his job meant the Micklewhites never went hungry. Whenever funds got too tight, Caine's father would swipe fish from the market and bring it home for dinner.
As Caine put it, "By the time I was 15 I never wanted to see fish again." But soon, too much fish would be the least of his problems...
3. He Was Torn From His Family
Michael Caine, born in London in the early 1930s...I bet some of you can see where this is going. Though he was too young to join the fight when WWII broke out, the conflict upended Caine's entire life. He was torn from his family and evacuated 100 miles north to Norfolk. Just a boy, Caine had to deal with the fear of the conflict raging on the continent while living with a strange family, miles from the only home he'd ever known.
Quickly, his time in the country turned into a living nightmare.
4. His Caretakers Were Horrible
The family that took Caine in wasn't happy to have some young Cockney boy foisted on them. They beat him regularly, but that was just the beginning. Every weekend, Caine had to endure an even worse torment. The family would leave the homestead on Friday evenings, but they wouldn't let Caine just run free. They didn't trust the boy roaming free in their house.
Every time they left, they locked Caine and another evacuee boy in a cupboard from Friday to Monday, with nothing but some pork pies and water to keep them alive. But at least that horrible family got what was coming to them in the end.
5. His Mother Taught Them A Lesson
The family that took Caine in couldn't hide their evils forever. Eventually, Caine's mother found out what they were doing. Her reaction was vicious. Ellen Frances Marie was not someone you wanted to cross. She went out to Norfolk to confront her son's caretakers, and it wasn't pretty. According to Caine, she beat the woman of the house so horribly, she nearly went to prison.
For Caine, at least, it had the desired effect. He left those terrible people behind him and lived out the rest of WWII in relative comfort. But that doesn't mean his trials were over...
6. He Grew Up In A Shack
Caine's home, like so many others, was destroyed in the Blitz. When WWII ended, his father returned home and the government set them up in a cramped prefabricated house in the Elephant and Castle. It was supposed to be a temporary thing, but the family ended up living there for 18 years. Caine wasn't too upset about it though: He'd lived in tiny apartments that didn't even have toilets. The prefab did just nicely.
Plus, he would leave his humble beginning behind before long. Before WWII had even ended, he'd already found his calling—though his first foray into acting wasn't exactly that glamorous...
7. He Forgot To Zip Up
Caine started acting when he was just 10 years old. His big debut didn't quite go as planned. While playing the ugly stepsisters' father in Cinderella, little Maury must have wondered why he was getting so many laughs. Turns out, his fly was undone when he stepped on stage. However, "ego" has never been one of Michael Caine's flaws.
Caine was delighted that he was getting laughs, and he didn't care that they were at his expense. But this wasn't the moment that made him decide he wanted to be an actor as a career—that came when he was a red-blooded teenager.
8. He Wanted The Girls
After his ignoble debut, Caine fell off acting for a time—until, at 14 years old, he walked past his school's drama class. He couldn't help but notice that there were a lot of pretty girls in that class. Like most 14-year-old boys, Caine dreamed of kissing a pretty girl one day. He didn't have much confidence he could do it on his own, but he did know that actors kissed pretty girls on stage all the time.
Just like that, he'd found his calling. But, before he could jet off to Hollywood, he had something he had to do first.
9. He Joined The Service
Before he could begin his life in earnest, Michael Caine had to do his part for his country. As part of his national service, Caine joined the Royal Fusiliers, eventually seeing active service in Korea. There, he witnessed the horrors of combat first-hand—and it changed him forever.
10. He Witnessed Atrocities
As a youth, Michael Caine held communist sympathies. Understandable, given his working-class upbringing. However, that all changed when he went to Korea. He saw how North Korea and China treated their citizens, and it horrified him. Any sympathies dried up before he left Korea. That, coupled with his experiences in live combat, meant he returned to England a changed man—but little did he realize, the worst horror was waiting for him back home.
11. He Fell Brutally Ill
Caine and the other men in his platoon returned to England, but one by one, they started not feeling well. Soon, each of them was hanging on for their lives, Caine included. They had contracted cerebral malaria, and the disease ravaged their bodies. However, if Caine and his other servicemen expected hospitable treatment from their home country, they were in for a rude awakening...
12. He Became A Guinea Pig
Caine found himself in the care of an American named Colonel Solomons, a man who had clearly never heard the phrase "First do no harm." No one knew much about cerebral malaria back then—and Solomons was determined to change that by any means necessary. Rather than treating Caine and his comrades, Solomons used them for a chilling experiment.
13. It Nearly Drove Him Insane
Colonel Solomons had Caine and the rest of his platoon all strapped to beds. Then, he just...left them there. With nothing other than regular injections to keep them calm, Caine and the others were kept tied to their beds for 11 days. Caine claims he barely survived the ordeal, but finally, they loosened his restraints, his illness broke, and he was free to go.
However, the experience had a profound effect on him.
14. He Had An Epiphany
As Caine lay strapped to that bed with malaria tearing through his body, he had an epiphany. Coming so close to the end taught him to appreciate living: "The rest of my life I have lived every bloody moment from the moment I wake up until the time I go to sleep." Once his life began again, Maurice Micklewhite Jr. was going to make every moment count—but that was easier said than done.
15. He Started Drinking
Caine returned to acting with a newfound appreciation for life—but life didn't return the favor. He spent his days auditioning for parts and trying to memorize lines, which left him constantly stressed. However, he also had to endure the time between jobs when he feared he'd never work again. Life wasn't easy. Like many other young actors, he turned to drink. In the early years, he claims he was drinking a bottle of vodka a day—sometimes two.
As he cheekily put it years later, “The best research for playing a drunk is being a British actor for 20 years." But still, he enjoyed the work and wanted to make a living—and that meant that the name "Maurice Micklewhite" just wouldn't do.
16. He Got A New Name
When it comes to adopting a stage name, keep it simple: Maurice Micklewhite became Michael White. With this new moniker, he landed a roll in Wuthering Heights—playing a drunkard, of course. That performance landed him a gig with a repertory company in Suffolk. Still in his early 20s, Caine...or, excuse me, White was making strides in his professional life—and in his love life too.
17. He Fell In Love
While working with the Lowestoft Repertory Company, Caine caught the eye of one of those pretty girls he'd dreamed about when he was a teen. Her name was Patricia Haines, and they quickly fell madly in love as only young people can. Before long, they'd tied the knot, and they set about building a life together—but it would all fall apart before long.
18. The Early Years Were Miserable
Caine's career started off strong. He landed a bunch of roles and a wife before he was 22. But after that, things started to fizzle. The normally chipper actor later described his first nine years in show business as "really, really brutal...more like purgatory than paradise." It also didn't help that, wouldn't you know it, there was already a "Michael White" performing on the London stage.
Maurice needed yet another new name—and it didn't take him long to find it.
19. He Got His Name From A Marquee
Michael White got the call from his agent, telling him he needed to find a new name, from a phone booth in Leicester Square. Distraught, he looked out across the street, and his eyes fell upon the nearby Odeon Cinema. And what movie was showing that day? The Caine Mutiny. The rest, as they say, is history.
20. He Could Laugh At Himself
Michael Caine eventually became one of the most respected actors to ever grace the screen—but even he had to admit that the origin of his name was a little silly. While telling the story in interviews, he often quipped that it was lucky he didn't look the other way, or he might have ended up as "Michael One Hundred And One Dalmatians." But while the world knows the name Michael Caine today, he never forgot his roots.
21. He Paid Tribute To His Father
Michael Caine never forgot that, deep down, he was still Maurice Micklewhite, the name he shared with his father. Though Maurice Sr. was always there for his family, he never got to see his son become a movie star. He passed in Caine's arms in 1957. Though he was gone, Caine kept his father close to mind for the rest of his life. He even found a heartbreaking way to pay tribute to his father decades later.
Though he eventually had his name legally changed to Michael Caine to make his life easier, when Caine was knighted, he asked to be knighted as Maurice Micklewhite to honor his father.
22. His Dad Never Saw His Success
One of the few regrets Michael Caine has in life is that his father never got to see him make it big. "I was a penniless bum when he was alive. I'm still a bum at heart, but now I'm a rich one." In fact, it wasn't too long after his father's passing that Caine's career finally started looking up.
23. He Lived With Terance Stamp
By the late 1950s, Caine had been around enough to make plenty of connections in London's theater scene. He moved in with another young Cockney actor: Terance Stamp. He and Stamp went out for roles together by day and drank away their struggles by night. Pretty soon, they came across another young actor; one who was a little more established than they.
His name was Peter O'Toole, and he got Michael Caine into all kinds of trouble.
24. He Was An Understudy
In 1959, Caine became O'Toole's understudy in a play called The Long & The Short & The Tall. It was a valuable experience, and the pair of them became close—but Caine didn't quite know what he was in for. He was no slouch, but O'Toole made drinking an Olympic sport. One Saturday night after a performance, O'Toole invited Caine to dinner.
Michael Caine had never been to a dinner party like this before.
25. He Woke Up In A Strange Bed
Peter O'Toole liked to keep dinner simple: A plate of fries, and a bottle of brandy. Caine sat down to tuck in with his new friend—and the next thing he knew, he was waking up in a strange apartment. He was fully clothed, and when he looked over, O'Toole was in the bed with him. He looked at the clock and couldn't believe his eyes: 5 pm. They'd slept away the entire day!
For a moment, he had worried he was going to miss a performance, until he remembered they didn't have shows on Sundays. Except, there was one problem...
26. He Lost Two Full Days
Soon after Caine woke up from his fries and spirit stupor, a strange young woman walked into the room and informed him that it was, in fact, Monday. Two full days had passed since they'd sat down to dinner, and they had a performance starting across town in a matter of hours. The pair frantically cleaned up and rushed to the Royal Court Theatre, barely making it in time.
But it wasn't a complete loss: O'Toole left Caine with some sage wisdom that night.
27. O'Toole Gave Him Good Advice
Caine was no stranger to the drink, but this was a whole new ballgame. Two days up in smoke. O'Toole, on the other hand, took it like a hardened soldier. He had one piece of advice for his understudy: "Never ask what you did. It's better not to know." He's probably right about that one...
28. He Drank. A Lot.
Caine's bender with O'Toole was a step up, but it wasn't that out of the ordinary for him. In those days, London's out-of-work actors would all gather at a West End cafe near a casting office. Caine and many young performers like him would find bit parts at the office, make a meager day's pay, then head to the cafe to buy dinner, get loaded, and start it all over again the next day.
Caine was heading down a potentially dangerous path—but he was destined for much, much bigger things.
29. He Was A Pro
Michael Caine isn't some romantic, tortured artist who constantly got in his own way. Though he and his friends drank all the time, Caine always knew when to hang it up (at least, he did when Peter O'Toole wasn't around). He'd lived through WWII, seen service, and survived being strapped to a bed for nearly two weeks. He wasn't about to throw his life away over a good time.
Caine never drank on the job, and always remained totally professional. He was also lucky, because his one experience with the green leaf was so miserable, it put him off of illicit substances for good.
30. He Couldn't Handle Mary Jane
Michael Caine could drink with the pros, but he was a little bit more green when it came to, well, green. According to him, he smoked once...then proceeded to laugh for five hours. He looked crazy enough that no cab would stop for him, and he had to walk home. After that, he told himself he'd never do it again, and he never did.
Good thing, too, because after nearly a decade of struggle, his big break was finally around the corner.
31. He Played The Field
Remember how Caine had a wife? Well, in case you couldn't tell from the stories about benders or the fact we haven't mentioned her much, the marriage didn't exactly end in happily ever after. The two separated a few years after they wed, then divorced in the early 60s. Caine wasn't too beaten up about it though. Throughout the 60s, he had a string of scandalous romances that kept him plenty busy.
From Natalie Wood to Bianca Jagger, with a bunch of models in between, Michael Caine became quite the womanizer in the swingin' 60s. But his love life wasn't the only thing that was on the upswing...
32. His Accent Got In The Way
Though we all love his Cockney accent now, it really hurt Michael Caine's career in the beginning. London was still seriously divided along class lines, and there just weren't as many working-class roles; god forbid a guy who talked like Caine play anyone important! It took an outsider to finally give him the chance he was looking for.
33. An American Gave Him A Chance
Once Caine landed his role in the 1964 film Zulu, his career suddenly started to take off—but he was lucky to get the part. He played an upper-class officer in the film, but Caine had been sure he'd never get the job with his working-class roots. But he was in luck: The American director, Cy Endfield, thought all Brits sounded the same anyway and cast him.
The experience would once again change Michael Caine's life forever—but it wasn't all fun and games. The film shot in South Africa, and what Caine witnessed on set shook him to his core.
34. South Africa Horrified Him
Much of the crew for Zulu were local South Africans, and the country still existed under apartheid. Almost instantly, Caine was horrified to learn how the Black crew members were treated by their white supervisors. Caine personally witnessed one foreman punch a Black laborer in the face over a minor issue. Thankfully, producer Stanley Baker witnessed it as well, and he immediately fired the foreman—but there was only so much they could do.
Caine vowed to never make another movie in South Africa as long as apartheid existed, and he stuck to that.
35. He Lost His Contract
The distributor for Zulu signed Caine to a seven-year contract. It finally seemed like his years of hard work were finally paying off—but when he returned home, he was in for another brutal surprise. Joseph E. Levine, who ran the studio, promptly released him for his contract. Caine was heartbroken—but the reason why was utterly infuriating.
Levine looked him in the eye and said, "I know you're not, but you gotta face the fact that you look like a queer on screen." Well, the joke was on him in the end...
36. He Learned By Watching
Michael Caine had eked out a living as an actor for a decade, but he never actually had any formal acting training. As he put it, "My acting lessons was watching people on the Tube and on buses. It’s body language." When it came to playing the upper-class officer in Zulu, he copied Prince Philip's body language to a tee.
Unfortunately, this approach almost had disastrous consequences.
37. They Wanted To Fire Him
When execs at Paramount saw the first shots from Zulu, they immediately sent a telegram to the set: "Fire actor playing Bromhead [Caine]–doesn’t know what to do with hands." Apparently those execs hadn't seen Prince Philip before! Who knows where Caine would be today had the director listened to them, but thankfully, he didn't.
Even without a contract, Caine's performance in Zulu put him on the map. But if you watched those early performances, you might notice something a little...odd about him.
38. He Used A Fake Accent
Caine proved he could play an aristocrat in Zulu, and his following roles were more of the same. But, since he was playing upper-class gentlemen, Caine used the standard Received Pronunciation that most actors used, rather than his iconic Cockney accent. But it was the 1960s, and with the Beatles classic Liverpudlian drawl taking the world by storm, Received Pronunciation started to wane.
Audiences wanted British accents with a little more character—and you know which accent has a lot of character...
39. He Finally Hit The Big Time
Just two years after Zulu, Michael Caine landed the role that made him a movie star: 1966's Alfie. With his Cockney accent on full display, the movie was a runaway success. American audiences ate up Caine's loveable, self-centered womanizer. He even got an Academy Award nomination out of it! Three years later, he yelled, "You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!" in The Italian Job, and that was it.
Michael Caine was a movie star—but he had plenty of bad decisions ahead of him before he became a legend, Mr. Wayne.
40. He Took Terrible Movies
Today, Sir Michael Caine is recognized as one of the greatest screen actors in history—but if you'd have told that to audiences in the 1970s, they'd have laughed you out the door. Sure, he had Alfie and The Italian Job under his belt, but those weren't exactly prestige pictures. Throughout the next decade, he averaged two movies a year—and most of them were atrocious.
Maybe there are some secret Beyond the Poseidon Adventure fans out there, but I haven't met one. Caine's 70s oeuvre leaves a lot to be desired, sure, but let's cut the guy a break. He wasn't too focused on his career—because once again, he'd fallen in love.
41. He Saw His Future Wife In A Commercial
Before Tinder, there was...watching TV? OK, maybe that wouldn't work for most of us, but dating is just easier when you're a movie star. In the early 70s, Caine saw a gorgeous woman in a commercial for Maxwell House. He wanted to meet her, and wouldn't you know it, a friend of his knew her. Her name was Shakira Baksh, and she remains the love of his life to this day.
But while it was love at first sight for Caine, we can't say the same thing about Shakira.
42. He Wouldn't Take No For An Answer
To Shakira's credit, if a strange man calls you and said, "I saw you on TV and I have to meet you," you should probably hang up the phone. Caine rang her up, and she rebuked him. So he called her again the next day. And the next. And the next. Finally, after 10 straight days of calls, Shakira finally agreed to meet with him.
And before any of you guys out there start thinking that will work, ask yourself this: Do you sound like Michael Caine? If not, I probably wouldn't try it.
43. He Gave Up The Benders
Caine married Shakira in 1973, and she finally made him cut back on the pints. Going out on weekend-long benders with Peter O'Toole hadn't exactly been healthy for his last marriage, and Caine was determined to make this one work. To this day, he still only drinks a bit of vino with dinner, nothing more.
44. He Won His First Oscar
Michael Caine was on the fast track to the B-list during the 1970s—but he finally started getting a little choosier with his roles in the 80s. He won his first Academy Award for playing Elliot in Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters. Soon after that, he teamed up with Steve Martin in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, delighting audiences and getting a Golden Globe nom for his troubles.
Now that's more like it! Finally, Michael Caine was giving real performances in great movies—though, between those two films, he did kinda...appear in one of the worst movies ever.
45. He Appeared In One Of The Worst Movies Ever
It's one of the most infamous stories from Michael Caine's entire career. When he won his Oscar for Hannah and Her Sisters, his co-star Dianne Wiest had to accept the statue for him. Why? Michael Caine was off on a film shoot in the Bahamas...for Jaws: The Revenge. Yikes. But while the movie was so bad it hurts, at least it did give us one of Caine's greatest quotes:
"I have never seen the film, but by all accounts it was terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific."
46. He Had A Catchphrase
The Oscars and blockbusters are one thing, but it's quotes like that that make Michael Caine such a legend—and he's full of them. Perhaps his most famous catchphrase is, "Not a lot of people know that," as Caine had a penchant for random facts. Peter Sellers called him the "biggest mine of useless information," as he claimed Caine constantly quoted from the Guinness Book of World Records.
Maybe Caine wanted to give Sellers a piece of his mind after that dig—but if he rang Sellers up, he'd be in for quite a shock.
47. He Heard His Own Voice On The Line
From Coogan to Brydon to...basically anyone you've ever met, everyone has a Michael Caine impression. Well, Peter Sellers was one of the first true masters of the art form. Caine must have known that, but imagine his surprise when he called up Sellers one day, got the answering machine, and heard his own voice on the line: "My name is Michael Caine. I just want you to know that Peter Sellers is not in. Not many people know that."
The line became more of a bit than anything else—but in Sellers' defense, Michael Caine really is one of the world's biggest mines of useless information.
48. He's A Trivia Master
A man after Factinate's own heart, Michael Caine has written several trivia books, including Not Many People Know That!, And Not Many People Know This Either!, and Not a Lot of People Know This Is 1988. Caine, a lifelong supporter of sports and recreation, donated all proceeds from the book to the National Playing Fields Association, which protects and promotes Britain's playing fields.
Not a lot of people know that—but you know it now!
49. He Smoked. A Lot.
If you've read this far, you'd probably say for many years that drinking was Michael Caine's worst habit—but we haven't even mentioned the smokes. For years, Caine was a chimney—as in, an 80-smokes-a-day kind of chimney. But after decades of lighting up, he kicked the habit in the early 70s, thanks to an intervention from an unexpected source.
50. A Celeb Helped Him Quit
It was none other than heartthrob Tony Curtis who convinced Caine to quit. Curtis saw Caine lighting up one after another at a party, so he walked up and grabbed the pack right out of Caine's hands. Curtis told him, "You are going to die," and threw the pack in the fire. If only all of us could have Caine's willpower because that was all it took for him to quit for good.
But the ironic twist? When Curtis left England soon after, customs officers caught him with marijuana. I guess he was only talking about tobacco...
51. Three People Have Wrong Him
Michael Caine's mother was maybe the biggest influence on his life. In case you couldn't tell from the "beating up the woman who abused him" story, she was tough as nails, and she instilled that hard edge on her son. She taught him to hold grudges, and she taught him well. Though normally an affable man, if you cross Michael Caine, he won't forget it.
"Three people have wronged me in my life. I froze each of them out of my life and I never forgot nor forgave them." If ANY of you know who those three people are, kindly email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, because gosh I'd love to know...
52. He Lost His Mother
When Ellen Frances Marie passed in 1989, Caine took the loss hard. In the weeks after this tragedy, however, Caine’s grief transformed into a profound sense of betrayal. He discovered that his mother had been lying to everyone in the family—even her husband and children. It was only after her passing that he found out about her heartbreaking secret.
53. She Kept A Dark Secret
Michael Caine knew he had a younger brother, Stanley—but what he didn't know was that he also had an older half-brother, David. His mother had David before meeting Caine's father, but there's a disturbing reason why they never met. Early in life, doctors diagnosed David with severe epilepsy, and in those days, treatment options were basically non-existent. So, Ellen had to make a devastating choice.
Ellen put David in a mental institution, where he lived for his entire life. She never told a soul about the boy—not even her own family.
54. He Didn't Want To Remarry
Michael Caine and his wife Shakira are one of show business's great love stories—but for a time, Caine didn't think he ever wanted to get married again. He describes his first marriage, to Patricia Haines, as a "very unsuccessful and hurtful first marriage," and he left that mess behind him with no intention of ever marrying again. So what went wrong?
55. He Married Too Young
Michael Caine mostly blames his disastrous first marriage on youth and inexperience: "I wish I’d known that if you fall in love, you don’t have to marry." He fell in love with Haines and married within a few weeks. He soon realized he'd made a horrible mistake.
56. He Took Awful Jobs
When Michael Caine tied the knot the first time, he wasn't exactly rolling in dough. He was lucky to land a few small TV jobs every now and then, but that didn't really pay the bills. Since his wife's acting career seemed more promising than his, he gave up his dream to support his wife. He took on a series of, as he puts it, "soul-destroying jobs." Laundry, dishwashing, plumbing, whatever came across his plate.
Still a young man with big dreams, Caine grew more and more miserable—and then one day, he got wonderful, horrible news.
57. He Had A Daughter
Michael and Patricia eventually had a daughter, Dominique (named after the protagonist of Ayn Rand's novel, The Fountainhead, and we're just going to skip right on past that...). Now Caine found himself stuck working the soul-destroying jobs while grappling with feelings of failure over his acting career AND he had to look after a baby.
Blame it on youth, blame it on stress, but there's not much that can excuse what Caine did next.
58. He Walked Out
Michael Caine never should have married Patricia Haines. Though he adores his daughter Dominique to this day, as he says, she was, "the wonderful straw that broke an already very weak camel’s back." He couldn't take it, and he just...walked out. He carried on his life as a struggling actor, went off to party with Terrence Stamp and Peter O'Toole, and left his family behind.
When he finally married Shakira in 1973, he knew he didn't want to repeat the same mistakes. And, seeing as they're still together almost 50 years later, I'd say he pulled it off.