Actor, artist, musician Crowe defies categorization
(CNN) -- There's no simple way to describe Russell Crowe.
He is a talented, versatile actor, a rough-and-tumble musician and biker and a no-nonsense artist whose favorite retreat is his Australian ranch. He is openly indifferent to Hollywood but also renowned for his romantic exploits, awards show blowups and elusive personality.
According to Ron Howard, director of the Oscar-nominated film "A Beautiful Mind," the paradox that defines Crowe also draws viewers to him.
"It's an interesting combination, and probably what makes him so fascinating to watch," said Howard.
Crowe has certainly fascinated the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, earning three straight Best Actor nominations and winning one for his role in "Gladiator."
In real life, Crowe sometimes seems as complex as the characters he plays on-screen.
The media have also been captivated by his personal life, from his brief but tumultuous affair with actress Meg Ryan, to his recent marriage to singer Danielle Spencer.
He's also gotten plenty of bad press for his behavior, including outbursts at awards shows and in bars. Film Threat, an online movie magazine, even ranked Crowe atop its list of "coldest" celebrities last year for his sometimes-churlish demeanor.
"He doesn't conform to the Hollywood stereotype of how a movie star should be," People magazine senior editor Anne-Marie O'Neill said just prior to the 2002 Academy Awards. "He certainly comes across as surly when he's at award shows."
Born into the business
Russell Crowe is a singer, songwriter and guitar player for the band "Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts." This is a scene from the band's video for their song "Sail Those Same Oceans."
Russell Crowe was born April 7, 1964, into a show business family -- the son of two film caterers and the grandson of an award-winning World War II cinematographer. Four years later, the Crowes moved from their native New Zealand to Sydney, Australia.
"Wandering around those TV and film sets at an early age, he'd lost all fear," said Tim Ewbank, the author of a biography on Crowe, in 2002. "And he also saw how it worked."
Crowe developed a knack for acting: He appeared in his first television series, "Spyforce," at age 6 and honed his talent for mimicking others.
"We would get a lot of American television, so I always used to impersonate, not copy, but impersonate people's accents," Crowe said. "I was very embarrassing to my parents."
When the family moved back to New Zealand in 1978, Crowe put his acting career aside and picked up a guitar -- and a new name, Russ le Roq. But when his musical career failed to take off, he turned to the stage, appearing in "Grease" and in "The Rocky Horror Show" tour as Eddie, Dr. Scott and Dr. Frank N. Furter. Following a successful tour, Crowe return to Australian to pursue a film career.
After years as a bingo caller, bus boy and street performer, Crowe finally got his break in 1990. The film was called "The Crossing." His career skyrocketed in Australia, highlighted by his award-winning role as a white supremacist in the 1992 film, "Romper Stomper."
Two years later, Crowe took on a very different role, playing a gay, rugby-playing plumber in "The Sum of Us." In 1995, Crowe's career took another major turn when he appeared in his first Hollywood film, "The Quick and the Dead."
Three straight best actor nominations
Crowe appeared later that same year alongside Denzel Washington in "Virtuosity," which flopped at the box office but helped establish Crowe's bad-boy image. In interviews, the actor bristled at comparisons to Mel Gibson and frustrated reporters with indifferent responses.
Two years later, Crowe's reputation in the United States soared following his breakthrough performance in the critically acclaimed "L.A. Confidential." Critics and viewers lauded his portrayal of Bud White, a tough cop with a good heart.
"I think 'L.A. Confidential' was the first time I was really aware of the name Russell Crowe in a performance," Howard said.
Despite ample opportunities, Crowe took a long break before signing on for another movie. The opportunity came nearly two years later, when Crowe played an exasperated, principled former tobacco executive in "The Insider." The performance Ð for which he gained nearly 50 pounds to better resemble Jeffrey Wigand, the real man behind the title character -- earned him his first Oscar nomination.
Crowe lost 40 pounds, hit the weights and moved from the 21st century to the 2nd century for his next role: Maximus in the Roman-era epic "Gladiator." This time, Crowe took home the Best Actor prize at the Academy Awards.
His next movie, "Proof of Life," gained more attention for Crowe's off-screen action than on-screen acting. Crowe's romance with co-star Meg Ryan -- at the time, the wife of actor Dennis Quaid -- fizzled six months later.
After "Gladiator," Crowe signed on to write, produce, direct and star in the World War II drama, "The Long Green Shore," set for release later this year. He also revived an old love Ð music -- by inking a deal to distribute an album by his band, Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts.
But Crowe continued acting, taking on the role of John Nash, a schizophrenic mathematician in "A Beautiful Mind."
In mid-March, he received the best actor award from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) for this performance. Days later, the opportunity to take home two Oscars two years in a row was lost when Denzel Washington won for his performance in "Training Day."
Since then, Crowe has toured with his band and lightened his acting load. His next major role is as seafaring adventurer Capt. Jack Aubrey in "The Far Side of the World," set for release later this year.
His music career and marital status notwithstanding, Crowe said at the 2002 SAG awards that he loves and remains committed to acting.
"This is a great job, and I want to encourage every one of you in this room to give everything you can to the story," he said. "God bless narrative. God bless originality."