Before racking up seven Academy Award nominations, a Tony nomination and two Grammy Award wins, the Philadelphia native worked his way up from guest-starring roles on some of the most well-known television series of the early 2000s. His big break was a small role on a 1999 episode of Sex and the City, where he drunkenly fumbled his way through a scene with Sarah Jessica Parker.
Two years later, Cooper found a steadier position on ABC’s cult classic Alias. He played local reporter Will Tippin, best friend to Jennifer Garner’s Sydney Bristow, until the series ended in 2006. The New School grad’s role became less and less significant, however, as the show went on. He was so distraught by the change that he even asked showrunner J.J. Abrams to write his character out of the series entirely.
It was around this same time that Cooper started to realize he was abusing alcohol and other substances to cope with life as a struggling actor. The Silver Linings Playbook star made a promise to himself in 2004 to stay sober after a night of heavy partying landed him in the hospital.
“I was so concerned what you thought of me, how I was coming across, how I would survive the day. I always felt like an outsider. I just lived in my head,” Cooper told the Hollywood Reporter in 2012. “I realized I wasn’t going to live up to my potential, and that scared the hell out of me. I thought, ‘Wow, I’m actually gonna ruin my life. I’m really gonna ruin it.'”
From that moment on, Cooper was primed for success. His scene-stealing role in 2009’s The Hangover made him a nationwide hit. The American Hustle star pivoted to more dramatic roles soon after, becoming an awards season staple and earning his first Oscar nomination in 2013.
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