Mike Myers: Man of Mystery

Image credit: © Dreamworks

Myers' stress at the time of Wayne's World was compounded by the fact that his father, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1987, was in failing health. Just before Wayne's World had its first wildly successful test screening, Eric Myers died. The film became a sensation, grossing $122 million and launching Myers to superstardom, but the actor was devastated that his father had not lived to see it — a wound, say his friends, that would last for years. ''Mike had this desire to make his father proud of him,'' says Chopra. ''I think one of his tragedies is that he was never able to do that because his father passed away before he became such a huge phenomenon.''

An unrequited need for love and approval seems to be a running theme both in Myers' work and in his personal life. He has spoken of wrestling with low self-esteem, of an aversion to being touched or hugged, of being drawn toward characters who are ugly or awkward. Looking at himself on screen, he told an interviewer in 1999, ''I see a guy with a really thick Canadian accent and acne scars — that's about it.'' Whatever issues he's dealt with invariably end up refracted through his characters. ''A lot of comedy comes from self-deprecation, from looking inside and representing things in a way that we haven't seen them,'' says Andrew Adamson, who directed Myers in the first two Shrek films. ''That can be a painful process.''

If Wayne's World was a difficult experience, Myers' next film, 1993's So I Married an Axe Murderer, was a torturous one. From the outset, Myers clashed with director Thomas Schlamme, at times holing up in his trailer and refusing to work. ''I think Mike's a visionary, but his way of getting what he wants is to emote and threaten and express anger,'' says the film's producer, Rob Fried. ''It's not healthy for personal relations.'' (Schlamme declined to comment.) Axe Murderer flopped, grossing less than $12 million, and Myers' next film, Wayne's World 2, made less than $50 million.

With his career in a tailspin, Myers, who'd married Robin Ruzan in 1993, disengaged from Hollywood and waited for fresh inspiration to strike. One day, driving home from hockey practice, he heard Dusty Springfield's recording of ''The Look of Love,'' made famous in the 1967 film Casino Royale, on the radio. He began sketching out a new character, a libidinally overheated spy named Austin Powers.

Released in May 1997, Myers' bizarro takeoff on Bond movies grossed an unspectacular $54 million. ''People didn't know what to make of it,'' says Roach. ''It's weird: this guy with an English accent, hair all over his body, and bad teeth. It's like a hallucination.'' But, fueled by a bonanza of infectiously quotable lines, the movie caught a wave on video, spawning an unexpected franchise and redeeming its star in the eyes of even some of his fiercest critics.

''I hated that bastard for years,'' says Spheeris, who believes Myers dissuaded Paramount from hiring her for Wayne's World 2. ''But when I saw Austin Powers, I went, 'I forgive you, Mike.''' She pauses, voice choked with emotion. '''You can be moody, you can be a jerk, you can be things that others of us can't be — because you are profoundly talented. And I forgive you.'''

Following a detour into drama in the 1998 film 54, Myers reprised his role as Austin Powers in The Spy Who Shagged Me. When the film proved a massive blockbuster — grossing, as Dr. Evil might put it, more than 300 meeellion dollars worldwide — Myers earned the right to call nearly every shot on the franchise. ''Mike is the chairman and CEO of Austin Powers,'' says New Line production head Toby Emmerich. ''He has a huge amount of control.'' Myers' clout extended beyond Austin Powers. Midway through production on Shrek, he decided the ogre should speak with a Scottish accent — an inspired notion that cost DreamWorks roughly $5 million in wasted animation.

NEXT PAGE: ''I'd describe Mike as impossibly smart — in there is his brilliance and also his undoing.''