Michael Rooker Secured Marvel Role Minutes After Being Killed Off The Walking Dead

Before he was Yondu in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, actor Michael Rooker was out of a job — for about five minutes. Rooker played Merle Dixon, older brother of Norman Reedus' Daryl Dixon, on the first three seasons of AMC zombie drama The Walking Dead. After directing Rooker in Slither and Super, writer-director James Gunn wanted Rooker to play the blue-skinned space pirate Yondu in his first Marvel Studios movie: 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy. But Rooker, expecting to return for Season 4 of Walking Dead, nearly had to pass until he was told his character would be killed off before the end of Season 3.

"If Merle hadn't died, I wouldn't be in the Guardians of the Galaxy series. I found out at the airport. I did," Rooker said during an appearance at Fandemic Tour Atlanta. "James Gunn and I just started talking, I said, 'Dude, no, we start shooting [on this date].' And he says, 'Oh no, we shoot [on this date].' I'm like, 'Oh, no! You know what that means, right? I can't play Yondu.'"

Rooker continued, "I am literally, unbelievable, five minutes later, [The Walking Dead] production called me and said, 'Oh, by the way, we're killing your ass off! You're outta here this season!' They said, 'Do not tell anyone, it's very highly top-secret.' I go, 'Absolutely not, sir.' We hung up and I go, 'Hey, Gunn, guess what?'"

Before Rooker received word he would be exiting Season 3 of The Walking Dead, Gunn "had already figured out a different role for me to play [in Guardians of the Galaxy]," Rooker said of a cameo role as a prisoner who fights Drax (Dave Bautista). "Then he goes like, 'Wow, really? Seriously? That's great! Oh, sh-t, now I have to convince Marvel!' [laughs]." 

Rooker reprised his role as Yondu opposite Chris Pratt in 2017's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. In 2020, Rooker revealed on the Inside of You with Michael Rosenbaum podcast he won't return as Yondu in Guardians Vol. 3, but he would "play something else [in Marvel], I wouldn't mind." 

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