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There’s a closing scene in the 1996 movie The Usual Suspects where Kevin Spacey transforms from a disabled crook under police investigation to a suave and polished mastermind. The role won him an Oscar for best supporting actor that year. He has another for best actor for his role in American Beauty in 2000.

Now, he is at the centre of a firestorm in Hollywood and London where he stands accused of sexual impropriety with budding male actors, one as young as 14. As a result, Netflix has announced that the Emmy-winning series House of Cards is to be cancelled, dealing a crippling blow to Spacey, who plays a conniving United States President, Frank Underwood. Isn’t it remarkable how life imitates art?

“The less you know about me, the easier it is to convince you that I am that character on screen,” Spacey once told an interviewer several years ago. And judging by the mounting allegations against the 58-year-old actor that are now coming to light, it certainly seems that few knew the real Spacey, who was actually born Kevin Spacey Fowler. That just hasn’t the same cachet on movie and acting credits, so the Fowler was dropped.

Although American born, Spacey honed his artistic director skills on the theatre boards in London’s West End. On Wednesday, the Guardian reported that actors and former staff of the Old Vic say the theatre turned a blind eye to inappropriate sexual behaviour by Spacey during the 11 years he was artistic director there, beginning in 2004.

The newspaper is reporting that Spacey groped and behaved in an inappropriate way with young men at the time. The actor has been under fire since actor Anthony Rapp accused him of making drunken sexual advances when Rapp was 14.

For years, the New York Times reports, Spacey evaded questions about his sexuality, insisting that it was a private matter. He’s right. But he’s wrong to then use it to excuse his tawdry behaviour towards Rapp. While Hollywood had gossiped about the actor, he confirmed what was widely suspected. “I choose now to live as a gay man,” he wrote.

The International TV Academy has withdrawn the planned offer of a special Emmy award for him.

Some who might have supported him were instead incensed by his implication that his sexuality was relevant to his groping of Rapp. They saw his coming out story as an intentional distraction from the accusation and a damaging conflation of homosexuality and paedophilia.

Spacey’s deliberate deflation is a play straight from the Underwood book of nasty tricks. While coming out is often met with support by peers, fans and rights activists globally, the response was far different for Spacey.

“Coming out stories should not be used to deflect from allegations of sexual assault,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and chief executive of Glaad, a toprights organisation, said in a statement. “This is not a coming out story about Kevin Spacey, but a story of survivorship by Anthony Rapp and all those who bravely speak out against unwanted sexual advances. The media and public should not gloss over that.”

While Spacey made reference to rumours regarding his sexuality when he hosted the 2017 Tony Awards, he never publicly confirmed them and fiercely guarded his privacy.

A native of South Orange, New Jersey, Fowler was a troubled youth and had a penchant for lighting fires. He was sent to military academy, a typically suburban American response in a belief that stern discipline will cure what ails. He lasted three months at Northridge Military Academy before he was expelled over hitting another student with a tyre. A frustrated career guidance teacher suggested that Fowler try an acting class. He did, and found a way to hide his true identity and build confidence at the same time. Dropping Fowler from his name also allowed him to assume the persona that he has so carefully crafted and protected.

Like many aspiring actors, Spacey headed to Los Angeles to make it big. He failed, but was talented enough to gain entry to the prestigious Julliard School in New York. He dropped out after two years, but signed up with the city’s Shakespeare Festival. His first professional stage appearance came in the 1981 production of Henry VI as a messenger.

It took him four years to land a role on the big screen, playing a subway thief in Heartburn. His big break came in the 1992 hit movie Glengarry Glen Ross. It certainly helped that he shared the set with both Jack Lemmon and Al Pacino. Three years later, The Usual Suspects broke his reputation of being just a character actor — giving him leading-man status and the Oscar. The hits followed quick and fast, from Se7en to LA Confidential and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. There was no looking back for Spacey. He was an A-lister. His second Oscar statuette came for playing Lester Burnham, an American man next door in the middle of a mid-life crisis. Accolades and more critical acclaim followed. The man looked invincible. Now, given all of the events of this past week, Spacey has a real crisis to contend with — and he’s earning few prizes for the way he’s handled it.

— With inputs from agencies