Verne Troyer, best known for playing Mini-Me in the Austin Powers franchise of films, has died. The news was announced via the actor’s Facebook page, which had previously reported on a recent hospitalization at the beginning of the month. Troyer, who also had a role in the first Harry Potter film as Griphook the Goblin, was 49. Although no cause of death has been announced, the Facebook posting mentions Troyer’s battles with depression and suicidal thoughts.
Born with a rare version of achondroplasia dwarfism, Troyer was reportedly one of the smallest adult men on the planet, standing 2'8". Despite that, he later told interviewers that his parents—who raised him for several years in an Amish community in Michigan—tasked him with the same farm chores as his larger siblings, work he credited with the physical strength he used to secure stunt work during his early Hollywood career. (His appearances as a stuntman include Baby’s Day Out, Dunston Checks In, and Jingle All The Way.)
Troyer got his big break in 1999, when Jay Roach cast him in the sequel to Mike Myers’ hit spy spoof Austin Powers, as a miniaturized clone of Myers’ Blofeld-wannabe Dr. Evil. “Mini-Me” became an immediate cultural touchstone, setting a template that would both haunt, and propel, Troyer’s career throughout the rest of his life.
Haunted, because it’s impossible to deny that Troyer’s size played a major part in him acquiring the career-launching part; certainly, many of the film’s jokes about the character play off and play up the exoticism of his condition. And yet, to focus solely on that aspect is to undercut Troyer’s own skill as a performer: Mini-Me worked as a character not simply because the man who played him was small, but because he so aggressively threw himself into the part, embracing the feral strangeness and surprising sweetness underneath the his basic exterior. In a film series dominated by an incredibly talented comedian working at or near the top of his game, Troyer carved out a comedic niche for himself as a consistent fan favorite, and that owed far more to his talents, his charisma, and his timing than any quirk of his genetics. (Myers agreed: In a later interview, the Austin Powers star told The View that he wrote Troyer a speaking part in The Love Guru explicitly because he had kicked himself for giving a natural comedy talent a non-speaking role in the previous films.)
Unfortunately, Troyer’s career took a downturn once the Austin Powers films were over; despite his popularity, the vast majority of the roles he took afterward focused either on his size, generally, or his status as “Verne Troyer, Austin Powers star,” specifically, rather than his other natural gifts. Although he continued to sporadically work in scripted entertainment—most notably, as Christopher Plummer’s friend and confidant in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus—Troyer quickly drifted into the world of reality TV. Appearances on that side of the aisle included VH1's The Surreal Life—where he had at least one incident of notable alcohol abuse—and Celebrity Big Brother.
Troyer embraced social media and YouTube in the last few years of his life, posting numerous vlogs and comedy videos to his personal channel. Several videos showed off his Los Angeles home, furnished in part with custom-designed furniture that had been made for his office set from The Love Guru, while others attempted to portray his life as one of carefree, positive fun. On April 3, however, his Facebook page posted that he had been hospitalized, with TMZ reporting that the incident was related to possible alcohol poisoning and suicidal thoughts. It’s not clear if his death today was directly linked to that incident, but the wording of the condolence statement posted to his Facebook page suggests that the two incidents were connected. The writers also asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Troyer’s two favorite charities, The Starkey Hearing Foundation and Best Buddies.