Author, filmmaker, and political activist Michael Moore has developed a trademark style of tackling major issues with a sharp sense of humor while maintaining a regular-guy attitude, an approach that has helped him secure a reputation as both a razor-sharp humorist and one of America's most fearless political commentators. Michael Moore was born in 1954 in Davison, MI, a suburb of Flint, then home to one of General Motors' biggest manufacturing plants, where Moore's father and grandfather both worked. Born to an Irish-Catholic family, Moore attended parochial school until he was 14, when he transferred to Davison High School. Moore soon developed an interest in student politics as well as larger issues; he won a merit badge as an Eagle Scout by creating a slide show exposing environmentally unfriendly businesses in Flint, and in 1972, when 18-year-olds were granted the right to vote, he ran for a seat on the Flint school board, soon becoming one of the youngest people in the United States to win an election for public office. While Moore was briefly a student at University of Michigan-Flint, he dropped out to focus on activism, and began a career as a journalist by working for the Flint Voice, an alternative weekly newspaper. In time, Moore became the editor, and under his leadership the paper expanded into the Michigan Voice, one of the most respected alternative political publications in the Midwest. Moore's success at the Michigan Voice eventually led to a job offer from Mother Jones magazine, where he became editor in 1986. Moore believed that Mother Jones, a leftist political journal based in San Francisco, had lost its bite, and it was his goal to give the magazine an edgy, populist voice. He often butted heads, however, with Mother Jones' publishers and management, and after less than a year he was fired, reportedly for refusing to run an article critical of the Sandanista rebels in Nicaragua that Moore believed was both inflammatory and inaccurate. After a brief spell working with a Ralph Nader organization, Moore got the idea to make a film about his old hometown of Flint and how the local economy had collapsed in the wake of the closure of General Motors' Flint plants despite their continued profitability. Moore used his settlement fee from Mother Jones as seed money for the film, but eventually sold his home and even held bingo games to raise the money to finish it. Finally, in 1989, the completed film Roger & Me -- in which, among other things, Moore and his crew repeatedly fail to get General Motors chairman Roger Smith to agree to an interview -- became a major critical success, was honored at a number of film festivals, and went on to become one of the most financially successful documentary features ever made. Following the success of Roger & Me, Moore participated as an interviewer in the production of Blood in the Face, and then directed a short follow-up to Roger & Me, Pets or Meat: The Return to Flint (1992). Next, Moore began work on his first fictional feature, Canadian Bacon, a satiric comedy in which an ineffectual United States president fabricates a "Cold War" against Canada. In 1994, Moore took his first stab at television with the satiric news and commentary program TV Nation, which aired on NBC. While TV Nation won rave reviews and a loyal following, the show's ratings were not what NBC was hoping for (it was also uncomfortable with some of the show's satire), and the network canceled the show after only one season. FOX stepped forward to air a second season of TV Nation, but the show fared no better on FOX and soon went off the air for good. In 1996, Moore returned to the written word, publishing a book of political commentary, Downsize This!: Random Threats From an Unarmed American. The book proved to be a surprise bestseller, and as Moore took to the road to promote it, he brought a camera crew along to make a documentary exploring the economic inequality in America as he dashed from city to city; the resultant film, The Big One, was released in 1998. In 1999, Moore returned to television with The Awful Truth, a blend of comedy and pointed political commentary similar to TV Nation. Rather than deal with U.S. network interference again, Moore got financial backing from the British network Channel Four, with the cable outlet Bravo airing the show in the United States; the show lasted two seasons. In the fall of 2001, Moore's next book, Stupid White Men, was scheduled for publication when its release was postponed by its publisher, Random House; Moore was openly critical of George W. Bush in the book, and after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Random House felt that the book's satiric tone would be considered inappropriate. According to Moore, Random House was considering canceling the book and destroying its initial print run (which was completed prior to 9/11) when he was asked about the book at a convention of library administrators. After telling the audience that the book was in all likelihood never coming out, an e-mail campaign was launched by librarians, and in the spring of 2002, Stupid White Men was finally released, quickly becoming a major bestseller. In the fall of 2002, Moore released his fourth feature film, Bowling for Columbine, an examination of America's obsession with guns and violence. It was the first documentary to be shown in competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 46 years, and was honored with the festival's Jury Award. Subsequently becoming the most financially successful documentary in history, Bowling for Columbine received a Best Documentary nomination when the 2002 Academy Award nominees were announced in February of 2003. The film subsequently won the Oscar, and true to form, Moore used his acceptance speech as an opportunity to launch a broadside against President George W. Bush and his participation in the war against Iraq. Moore's statement drew strong reaction on both sides of the political fence, though Moore himself appeared to take the controversey in stride. In fact, the speech would prove to be only the tip of the iceberg as far as Moore's indictment of the Bush administration. A little over a year after taking home his Academy Award, Moore accomplished the seemingly impossible task of topping Bowling for Columbine with his fifth feature, Fahrenheit 9/11. A scathing indictment of the rush to war by the Bush administration in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., the film had its first success at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, where it became the first documentary to ever win the Palm d'Or. Despite the honor bestowed upon the film, it was nearly kept out of theaters when Disney chose not to allow subsidiary Miramax to distribute it. Then-Miramax heads Bob and Harvey Weinstein were allowed to purchase the film back from Disney and a distribution deal was made with IFC and Lionsgate. In June 2004, amid intense controversy, Fahrenheit 9/11 surpassed the total gross of Bowling for Columbine in its first weekend, as it went on to become the most successful documentary of all time. Moore spent the rest of the year on a soapbox in an attempt to derail Bush's eventual reelection, after which he lay low and began work on another ambitious project called Sicko. This time taking on the American healthcare industry, Moore found it harder than ever to infiltrate his chosen subject, as the major HMOs and drug companies organized Moore-avoidance seminars and kept their employees sworn to silence with any camera crews. He revisited his themes of working class struggles and the nefarious instincts of the powerful and wealthy with his 2009 documentary Capitalism: A Love Story.
Biography by Mark Deming
- Briefly enrolled in a Roman Catholic seminary when he was 14.
- At 18, became one of the youngest publicly elected officials in U.S. history when he won a seat on the Flint, MI, school board.
- In 1976, founded both a crisis-intervention center and an alternative newspaper, The Flint Voice, which later became The Michigan Voice.
- Started his own production company, Dog Eat Dog Films, in 1986; three years later, made his feature-film debut with the acclaimed documentary Roger and Me.
- In the mid-'90s, created the series TV Nation, an irreverent newsmagazine for which Moore served as writer, director and correspondent; it ran for a few episodes on NBC in 1994, then was briefly revived by Fox the following year.
- Returned to the public eye in 2002 with Bowling for Columbine, an examination of gun-control laws in the wake of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings.
- Courted controversy with 2004's Fahrenheit 9/11, which criticized the Bush administration's policies following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks; it became the highest-grossing documentary ever, taking in nearly $120 million in the U.S. alone.
- Ran afoul of the U.S. Treasury Department over a possible trade-embargo violation when he traveled to Cuba to shoot scenes for Sicko (2007), a biting critique of the American health-care system.
- Has written several politically oriented books, including Downsize This! Random Threats from an Unarmed American (1998), Stupid White Men...and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation! (2002) and Dude, Where's My Country? (2003).
- Took a critical look at the late-2000s financial crisis with Capitalism: A Love Story (2009).