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Brad Pitt Turns 50: An Appreciation in Pictures

Fame, fortune and family. The actor has it all. A look at his career and life milestones

50 Looks Good

En español | Seems like yesterday he was seducing Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise and building a rep as a heartthrob. But along the way, People magazine’s twice-selected Sexiest Man Alive matured into a serious performer (with three Oscar nominations for acting) and devoted partner and father. No better time than a milestone birthday (Dec. 18) to reflect on how Brad Pitt became a Hollywood superstar.

For Picture/Corbis

A Midwestern Boy

He was born William Bradley Pitt, in Shawnee, Okla., to a school counselor mom and truck-company manager dad. After moving to Springfield, Mo., the eldest of three and onetime Baptist choirboy graduated in 1982 from Kickapoo High School. At the University of Missouri, he studied journalism but quit in 1986 (two credits shy of graduating) and took off for California.

Splash News/Corbis

TV Start

Before he found his way into acting, Pitt was a limo driver for a strip-o-gram service and a dancing chicken promoting an El Pollo Loco restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. He got his start on afternoon soaps and a four-episode Dallas run, pictured here in 1987 with Shalane McCall. In the 1990 TV movie Too Young to Die, he played a drug addict opposite a 16-year-old Juliette Lewis, who would be his girlfriend for the next three years.

CBS

'Thelma & Louise'

Pitt breaks onto the big screen as a thief with a mile-wide smile and killer abs whose steamy hotel-room encounter with Geena Davis’s outlaw housewife stole female hearts in the 1991 female buddy picture. He soon graduated to lead roles. You can see why.

United Archives/Alamy

Breaking the Mold

“Fame makes you feel permanently like a girl walking past construction workers,” pin-up pretty Pitt once groused. In 1993, he tried to stretch beyond his golden boy image as a grungy serial killer while reuniting with Lewis in Kalifornia and did a brief comic turn as a pothead named Floyd in Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance. Asked how he got into his stoner character, Pitt joked, “I’m a Method actor.”

AF archive/Alamy

Vamping It Up

Long before the goth-lit sensation Twilight, there was Anne Rice’s 1976 best-seller Interview With the Vampire, adapted into a buzzed-about movie in 1994. Pitt’s role should have been a juicy one as Louis, a bloodsucker in training. But while Tom Cruise got to show off as the fiendish Lestat, his costar was stuck in a dullish role as a morose narrator and innocent victim.

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Pitt and Redford

Pitt had gotten a huge boost both critically and at the box office after being directed by Robert Redford (his blond doppelganger) in 1992's A River Runs Through It (far left) as the rebellious son of a minister father in 1920s Montana. Two years later he starred in Legends of the Fall (near left), cementing his heartthrob status.

Columbia Pictures/Photofest | Alamy

'Se7en' Proves Lucky

After being named 1995's Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine, the actor welcomed the opportunity to avoid doing “a pretty-boy thing.” He stepped up his game opposite Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey in the David Fincher-directed thriller as a cocky, rumpled cop hunting down a serial killer. Se7en also introduced him to Gwyneth Paltrow, who played his wife.

 

AF archive/Alamy

Gwyneth

Paltrow and Pitt were the “It” couple during their post-Se7en courtship and engagement. Their matching hairstyles, here at The Devil’s Own premiere in 1997, only fueled interest in all things personal. The two became engaged the year after the movie but called it off seven months later.

Ron Galella/WireImage

The Character Actor

Taking a change-of-pace supporting role opposite Bruce Willis as a twitchy mental patient and animal rights activist in the 1995 sci-fi thriller 12 Monkeys paid off with Pitt’s first Oscar nomination and only Golden Globe win.

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Big Pay, Little Rewards

With his A-list status confirmed by fatter paychecks (upward of $10 million per film), Pitt signed on for a string of high-profile titles that fared inconsistently. They include Seven Years in Tibet, a flop about a spiritually enlightened mountain climber (far left), and 1998’s Meet Joe Black, in which he starred as the Grim Reaper inhabiting a young man’s body and got some of the worst reviews of his career.

TriStar Pictures/David Appleby | AF Archive/Alamy

Marriage

Pitt and Friends superstar Jennifer Aniston met on a blind date set up by their managers in 1998. They kept their relationship undercover and away from the prying eyes of the paparazzi, although the actor eventually admitted to Oprah Winfrey on-air that “we met through friends.” They were married in 2000 with a $1 million Malibu wedding amid famous friends, fireworks and 50,000 flowers.

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Sexy Times Two

Soon after marrying Jennifer Aniston, he became People's Sexiest Man Alive again, the first actor to be named twice (George Clooney and Johnny Depp have since doubled up on the honor). A People editor explained: “Brad was always gorgeous but commitment has amped up his inner glow.”

Courtesy People Magazine

Brad Comes Out Swinging

Pitt switched up his onscreen persona again and gained back his credibility with a pair of movies that focused on manly interaction. First was 1999’s Fight Club. It did not click with the public initially but has since become a cult classic, aided by Pitt’s catchphrase: “The first rule of Fight Club: Do not talk about Fight Club.” Next came a small but flashy role as a mumbling Irish boxer in the 2000 gangster yarn Snatch.

AF archive/Alamy

Crime Pays

The new millennium found Pitt in a relaxed mode onscreen, costarring with Julia Roberts as a two-bit gangster in the comedy The Mexican and joining forces again with Robert Redford in Spy Game. But he had the most fun frolicking with George Clooney and Matt Damon, Elliott Gould and Don Cheadle as well as Roberts (not shown) in the 2001 remake of the Rat Pack heist film from the ’60s, Ocean’s Eleven.

Moviestore collection Ltd/Alamy

A Greek God

Pitt fully embraced his godlike good looks to play Achilles in the ancient epic Troy, complete with six months of sword-fighting training and a short skirt. (“Those Greeks liked the mini,” he joked.) Interestingly enough, an injury to his Achilles tendon — his character’s fatal weak spot — delayed the $185 million project for several weeks. The 2004 film underwhelmed at the domestic box office but took in $362 million worldwide.

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'Mr. and Mrs. Smith'

In 2004, rumors began to swirl from the set of the action comedy about married assassins, that Pitt and costar Angelina Jolie were getting cozy offscreen. All was denied. Pitt and Aniston would separate early in 2005 and before the movie, Pitt and Jolie were photographed together with her adopted 3-year-old son, Maddox, on a beach in Kenya.

Moviestore collection Ltd/Alamy

Buttoning Up

In 2008, besides stealing the show as a slow-witted gym instructor in the Coen brothers’ dark comedy Burn After Reading, Pitt paired again with director Fincher as a man who ages in reverse for the decade-spanning fantasy The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. He would earn his second acting Academy Award nomination.

Paramount Pictures/Photofest

Career Hot Streak

Despite a busy family life and a growing interest in charitable work, including setting up the Jolie-Pitt Foundation to aid worldwide humanitarian causes, Pitt seemed to come into his own as an actor in award-worthy efforts. In 2009, Pitt (with Eli Roth) played a swaggering military officer leading a band of Nazi-hunting Jewish soldiers in Quentin Tarantino’s much lauded Inglourious Basterds.

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More Nominations

In 2011, Pitt pulled off two much-praised roles as a strict Ike-era father figure in Terrence Malick’s haunting Tree of Life (near left), and as a maverick baseball-team general manager in Moneyball, for which he received his third acting Oscar nomination.

Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy | AF archive/Alamy

New Orleans

After 2005's Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, a city Pitt grew to love while filming Interview With the Vampire there, he started Make It Right Foundation to build 150 homes in the Lower Ninth Ward, hardest hit by the storm. Pitt and Jolie also have a home in New Orleans.

Splash News/Corbis

The Latest Movies

Pitt shows no signs of slowing his workload regardless of family and outside humanitarian interests. He had a busy 2013 with roles in The Counselor, (far left), 12 Years a Slave (with star Chiwetel Ejiofor, pictured) and the summer hit, World War Z.

Splash News/Corbis | Todd Williamson/Invision for Fox Searchlight/AP Images | Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy

The Brood

Pitt legally adopted Jolie’s adopted children, Maddox, Zahara and Pax, and the couple also would have biological children: daughter Shiloh, born in 2006, as well as twins Knox and Vivienne in 2008. Pitt, shown with Jolie and some of the children, readily took to fathering: “Ultimately, I’m a dad,” he has said. “I have the concerns a dad has.” He and Jolie became engaged in 2012. No wedding date — yet.

Jun Sato/WireImage

In Sickness and in Health

Pitt stood by his woman early in 2013 as Jolie revealed that she underwent a preventive double mastectomy because of her high risk for cancer. In a statement, he described her decision and that of other women in a similar situation, as “heroic,” adding, “All I want is for her to have a long and healthy life, with myself and our children. This is a happy day for our family.”

Shizuo Kambayashi/AP/Corbis

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