Date of Birth: December 31, 1959
A distant cousin of the poet Joyce Kilmer, Val Kilmer was born in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, California, the second of the three sons to a real-estate developer, and a homemaker. When Kilmer was nine years old, his parents divorced, and his mother moved to Arizona, while Kilmer stayed behind in the town of Chatsworth, California with his father; Kilmer's much-remarked intensity and sincerity was evident at an early age. He failed his
first audition for a television commercial when he was 12, because he told the director that he could not pretend to like the hamburgers he was supposed to praise. At Chatsworth High School, Kilmer was not a good student.
Kilmer left Chatsworth for New York City, where he became, at the age of 17, one of the youngest students ever admitted to the drama department of the Juilliard School. At Juilliard, Kilmer studied classical theatre. In 1981, he performed in two productions for the New York Shakespeare Festival: How It All Began, a new play he had cowritten, and Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part I, in which he played the servant to Hotspur. In 1982 he portrayed Orlando in As You Like It, in Minneapolis. Among the other plays in which he appeared was Richard III. In 1983 he made his off-Broadway debut in John Byrne's The Slab Boys, in which he played opposite Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon.
Kilmer made his film debut as pop singer-turned-spy Nick Rivers in the 1984 Zucker-Abahams-Zucker spoof Top Secret. The following year, he earned a place in the cult movie lexicon when he starred in Real Genius. Kilmer's subsequent before-the-camera appearances over the next few years were sporadic but always memorable: the best of these included Top Gun (1986), Willow (1988), and the title role in the made-for-cable Gore Vidal's Billy the Kid (1989). Far lengthier was the list of films turned down by Kilmer for various artistic and personal reasons: Dune, Blue Velvet, Flatliners, Backdraft, Point Break, and Indecent Proposal, to name a few. While filming the fantasy Willow in England, Kilmer met beautiful British actress Joanne Whalley and the two fell in love. They were married in 1988.
In 1991, Kilmer cemented his stardom with an uncanny dead-on portrayal of rock icon Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's The Doors. Two years later, he found himself in a showcase role in a surprise success, playing the consumptive Doc Holliday in Tombstone. In 1995, Kilmer was back to turning down assignments like Interview with a Vampire and Crimson Tide, the better to clear time for his portrayal of the Caped Crusader in the 1995 megahit Batman Forever. The film was a success, and though he turned down the opportunity for the continuing role of the Dark Knight, Kilmer's career seemed to have taken flight. That same year, he had a starring role in the critically acclaimed Heat.
Unfortunately, most of his subsequent films have been disappointments, the most notable offender being The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996). Kilmer's highly anticipated 1997 film, The Saint, which cast him as the titular hero, was similarly disappointing. The following year only his voice was detectable on the big screen, when he voiced the role of Moses in the animated biblical epic The Prince of Egypt. He was once again visible in 1999, starring as a blind man whose sight is regained in the romantic drama At First Sight, and as an abusive, alcoholic janitor in Joe the King, actor Frank Whaley's directorial debut. In 2000, he teamed up with The Matrix's Carrie-Anne Moss in Red Planet.
When not working in L.A. or on location, Kilmer lives alone on a ranch in Sante Fe, New Mexico. Joanne Whalley divorced him in February 1996 after making a surprise visit to the set of Batman Forever and discovering that her husband was having an affair with Drew Barrymore. Whalley and Kilmer share custody of their two children.
In 2003 he won a Prism Award for his performance in The Salton Sea (2002) as well as a Maverick Tribute Award at the Cinequest San Jose Film Festival. In 2005 he won a Satellite Award for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005). Lately he has been playing supporting roles in films such as MacGruber (2010).