Spacey was born July 26, 1959 in South Orange, New Jersey to Thomas Geoffrey Fowler, a technical writer, and Kathleen Spacey, a secretary; he has two older siblings: a sister and a brother, Randy. His father, who has been alleged by Fox News to have been a member of the American Nazi Party, was often unemployed, causing the family to move frequently, eventually settling in Southern California in 1963. Spacey attended Northridge Military Academy after he set his sister's treehouse on fire, but was asked to leave after throwing a tire at another student at the academy, and subsequently attended Chatsworth High School in Chatsworth, California. In the twelfth grade, he starred in the school's senior production of The Sound of Music, playing the part of Captain Georg von Trapp, opposite Maria (played by Mare Winningham). While in high school, he took his mother's maiden name, "Spacey" (originally a Welsh name, belonging to his great-great-grandfather, spelled "Spacy"), as his acting surname. Several reports have incorrectly suggested that he took the name in tribute to actor Spencer Tracy, combining Tracy's first and last names.
Spacey had tried to succeed as a stand-up comedian for several years, before attending the Juilliard School in New York City, where he studied drama, between 1979 and 1981. During this time period, Spacey performed stand-up comedy in bowling alley talent contests.
Spacey's first professional stage appearance was as a messenger in a New York Shakespeare Festival performance of Henry VI, part 1 in 1981. The following year he made his first Broadway appearance in a production of Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts. He made his first major television appearance in the second season premiere of Crime Story, playing a Kennedy-esque American Senator. Although his interest soon turned to film, Spacey remained actively involved in the live theater community. In 1991, he won a Tony Award for his portrayal of "Uncle Louie" in Neil Simon's Broadway hit Lost in Yonkers. Spacey's father was unconvinced that Spacey could make a career for himself as an actor, and did not change his mind until Spacey became a well known theatre actor.
Some of Spacey's earlier roles include a widowed eccentric millionaire on L.A. Law, the made-for-television film The Murder of Mary Phagan (1988) opposite Jack Lemmon, and the Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder-starring comedy See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989). Spacey earned an avid fan following after playing the criminally insane arms dealer Mel Profitt on the television series Wiseguy. He quickly developed a reputation as a character actor, and was cast in bigger roles, including one-half of the bickering Connecticut couple in the dark comedy The Ref (1994), a malicious Hollywood studio boss in the satire Swimming with Sharks, and the put-upon office manager in the all-star ensemble film Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), gaining him positive notices by critics.
In 1995, Spacey played a Serial Killer in Se7en who murders people he thinks guilty of the seven deadly sins, and the enigmatic criminal Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects. His role in The Usual Suspects launched him to A-list status and won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. In 1996, he played an egomaniacal district attorney in A Time to Kill, and founded Trigger Street Productions in 1997 with the purpose of producing and developing entertainment across various media. In 1996 he made his directorial debut with the film Albino Alligator. The film was a failure at the box office but Spacey's direction was praised.
Spacey won universal praise and a Best Actor Oscar for his role as a depressed suburban father who re-evaluates his life in 1999's American Beauty; the same year, he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. During the several years following American Beauty's release, Spacey appeared in films that he believes "hadn't done as well critically or in terms of box office". He played a physically and emotionally scarred grade school teacher in Pay It Forward, a patient in a mental institution who may or may not be an alien in K-Pax, and singer Bobby Darin in Beyond the Sea. Beyond The Sea was a lifelong dream project for Spacey, who took on co-writing, directing, and starring duties in the biography/musical about Darin's life, career, and relationship with late actress Sandra Dee. Spacey provided his own vocals on the Beyond the Sea soundtrack and appeared in several tribute concerts around the time of the film's release. He received mostly positive reviews for his singing, as well as a Golden Globe nomination for his performance. However, some reviewers criticized the age disparity between Spacey and Darin, noting that Spacey was too old to convincingly portray him. Spacey has noted that despite the criticism, he is still proud of the film.
In 2001, Kevin co-hosted with Dame Judi Dench Unite for the Future Gala, the UK's fundraiser for the British Victims of 9/11 and Medecins Sans Frontieres at London's Old Vic Theatre, produced by Harvey Goldsmith and Dominic Madden.
In February 2003, Spacey announced that he was returning to London to become the artistic director of the Old Vic, one of the city's oldest theatres. Spacey directed the new Old Vic Theatre Company, which stages shows eight months out of the year, starting in 2004. Spacey starred in two shows a season, in addition to directorial duties. During the 2004-05 season, Spacey directed a performance of the play Cloaca by Maria Goos, and performed in productions of National Anthems by Dennis McIntyre, as well in The Philadelphia Story by Philip Barry. During the 2005-06 season, Spacey performed in the title role of Richard II (directed by Trevor Nunn). He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by London South Bank University in November 2005. Spacey has noted that he is "having the time of [his] life" working at the Old Vic, and explained that at this point in his career, he feels that he is "trying to do things now that are much bigger than myself and outside of myself".
Spacey hosted the season finale of Saturday Night Live on May 20, 2006. He participated in six sketches, including playing the roles of a detective, a falconer, and Neil Young. He also starred in a sketch with Andy Samberg, spoofing The Usual Suspects.
Spacey's most recent film role is as the villainous Lex Luthor in the Bryan Singer-directed superhero film, Superman Returns. The film opened on June 28, 2006. Spacey also appears in Edison Force (originally titled Edison), co-starring Morgan Freeman and Justin Timberlake; Edison Force received a direct-to-video release on July 18, 2006.
Spacey is well-known in Hollywood for his skillful impersonations - when he appeared on Inside the Actors Studio he imitated, at the request of host James Lipton: Jimmy Stewart, Johnny Carson, Katharine Hepburn, Clint Eastwood, John Gielgud, Marlon Brando, Christopher Walken, Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon.
Spacey's sexual orientation has been the subject of much discussion in the media. In the run-up to the 1999 Academy Awards, Spacey gave an interview to Lesley Stahl for 60 Minutes on CBS in which he categorically refused to discuss his sexual orientation. He repeatedly asked, "What difference does it make?" Soon after winning the Academy Award for American Beauty, the tabloid The Star printed a collection of photos that allegedly proved Spacey's homosexuality. In January 2006 The Daily Mirror, a British tabloid newspaper, reported that a high school program dedicated to fighting homophobia listed Spacey among a list of famous homosexuals. The program's leader, Paul Patrick, apologized and called the listing a "mistake" and announced that Spacey's name would be edited out.
In an interview by Playboy in the October 1999 issue, in response to a 1997 Esquire article to the contrary, Spacey stated openly and repeatedly that he is heterosexual.
In August 2004, while living in London, Spacey reported to local police that he had been mugged by a young man in a park at approximately 4:30 A.M, while walking his dog. Several hours later, he withdrew the statement and apologized to the police, explaining that he had been conned into giving his mobile phone to a youth who claimed to need to call his sick mother. According to Spacey, the youth then ran away with the phone, and Spacey's own bruises were the result of tripping over his dog while giving chase. The police accepted Spacey's new version of events and did not press charges.
Spacey is a personal friend of former President Bill Clinton, having met Clinton before his presidency began. Spacey has described Clinton as "one of the shining lights" of the political process. According to Federal Election Commission data, Spacey has contributed $42,000 to Democratic candidates and committees.
In September 2006, Spacey announced that he intends to stay on at the Old Vic, for at least another nine years, and that due to his continuing UK residency he intends to take-up dual British citizenship when it becomes available to him.