Mickey Rourke, who is nominated for a best actor Academy Award for his role in "The Wrestler," always thought that he'd get a second chance at success in Hollywood.
The 52-year-old actor told Barbara Walters that his performance as aging professional wrestler Randy "the Ram" Robinson represents the best work of his career.
"It's the hardest movie I ever made, and it's the best movie I ever made, with one of the best directors that I ever worked with," Rourke told Walters for an interview to air on her Oscar night special.
Rourke, who thanked his dogs -- "the ones who are here and the ones who aren't here anymore" -- in his Golden Globes acceptance speech, said goodbye to one of his best friends this week. Rourke's Chihauhau Loki died early Tuesday morning, his representatives confirmed to ABC News.
He told Walters that "the dogs were there when no one else was there."
"I sort of self-destructed. … The wife had left, the career was over, the money was not an ounce."
When he was at rock bottom, he said he realized, "I don't have kids. The dogs became everything to me. The dog was looking at me going, 'Who's going to take care of me?'"
Asked if he could have imagined a year ago that he'd be nominated for an Academy Award, Rourke said, "Put it this way: I always, I always felt if I could get back in the game, I'd have a hope. I mean, I always had a hope that I would. But it's not always in your hands. It's always, there's the material, there's the director. It's all gotta sort of come together at the right time."
Rourke said he relished the chance to take a leading role and credits director Darren Aronofsky for giving him a chance.
"I'd ruined my career, and that's all anybody would take the chance on me, would be a week here, a day here, three days there," he said. "What I want to do is, I just want to do the best, the best work that I can, that I got in me. And that's what Darren [Aronofsky] brought out of me. I want to be able to take that same work ethic to the next film."
Rourke rocketed to fame in the 1980s with roles in films like "Body Heat" and "Diner." But after a string of failed movies and poor personal choices, his star had fallen in Hollywood.
He admitted that he had destroyed his career.
"With me, it was never drugs, it was never booze," he said. "It was just the fire, the pain, the issues that I don't really want to talk about ... abandonment issues, shame, issues of shame."
Those issues, he said, manifested themselves in a shield of "anger and hardness." His mean streak became notorious in Hollywood, and when potential roles dried up, he even gave up acting for a few years and attempted a career as a boxer.
Rourke married actress Carre Otis in 1992, and they divorced six years later. He said it would be easy to explain the failure of his marriage as the "right girl at the wrong time," but added that isn't the whole truth.
"We were both out of our minds," he said. Both Rourke and Otis struggled with substance abuse.
After ending his marriage and entering therapy 14 years ago, Rourke said it took him "more than a decade" to get his act together. He acknowledged that he still loves Otis, who has recovered from her own drug addiction and is now working as a model.
"I still love her," he said. "I love her in a different way, though.
"I waited for her, eight years, to come back," he said, but now feels that he's moved forward.
"I moved on. This is the first I've ever been able to say that and mean it."
Rourke's own journey mirrors, in many ways, that of his character in "The Wrestler," so much so that it made parts of the film difficult for him.
"There were a lot of things in it that were a little, just a little too close."
Now, he says, he's concentrating on his career and has already completed his next film. Asked if the demons are gone, he said, "Most of them are, yes."