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I couldn't live with the pain ..it was like having severe ice-cream brain freeze that lasted 24 hours a day; EXCLUSIVE: GEORGE CLOONEY ON THE INJURY THAT THREATENED HIS CAREER.

Byline: By JOHN MILLAR

FILM heart-throb George Clooney is enjoying the best year of his career.

He's already won a clutch of awards, including a Golden Globe, for his performance in political thriller Syriana.

Tonight he's in the running for more glory at the Bafta awards in London and next month he's up for several Oscars.

But all of this has come with a painful price - and he has the scars to prove it.

Looking slim, fit and tanned George 44, pulls down the collar of his shirt to reveal a vivid scar.

He told me: "That starts from the top of my neck and goes all the way down to the base of my spine."

The scar is a legacy of an accident during the filming of Syriana in which George plays a CIA agent caught up in a complex plot involving global greed and corruption, oil intrigue in the Middle East and terrorism.

He tore the dura - the membrane that surrounds the spine and brain and holds in the spinal fluid.

This caused excruciating pain which he says was like having a "severe ice cream brain freeze that lasted 24 hours a day". After being examined by a specialist he had to have surgery - but still suffers agonising headaches.

He said: "You can't live like that. You literally can't survive like that because of the pain."

Although it is a serious and painful topic, joker George can't resist cracking a gag about his op.

He said: "They basically had to wrap my whole spine in plastic. They will dig me up in 300 years and wonder, 'What the hell is this?'"

The jokes stop when I suggest that he's gone through a life-altering experience.

"It has been big issue in my life," he admitted. "It changed everything for me. I still have to have blood patches right into my spine to try and clog up the holes... that hurts.

"Every day I still have to deal with pretty severe headaches but nothing like what it was."

As well as Syriana, in which he appears alongside his Ocean's Eleven mate Matt Damon, George is also enjoying success with another political film, Good Night, and Good Luck. The movie, which he also directed and co-wrote, is about i broadcaster Ed Mur-row's campaign against the Communist witch-hunts of Senator Joe McCarthy. Both films have attracted critical success and a host of award nominations.

At the Baftas tonight George is in the running for Best Supporting Actor for both Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck. He's also up for Best Director and Best Screenplay.

His Oscar night is just as complex. He is again competing for Best Supporting Actor for Syriana, while Good Night, and Good Luck has six nominations, including two for himself in the director and screenplay categories.

But the modest star plays down his chance of success, tipping gay cowboy movie Brokeback Mountain to claim the major prizes.

In Syriana hunky George is virtually unrecognisable after piling on more than two stones and growing a beard. He joked: "It was interesting being anonymous. I have tried other disguises before and they haven't worked.

"But put on 30lbs and grow a beard and you can walk into any restaurant in LA and not get a table."

It's hard to believe that Clooney became so flabby for the film because he's back as lean and fit as ever.

But he insists there was no magical formula in losing all those pounds. He said: "I did it the same way everyone does. You exercise and stop eating. I had put it on in 30 days. It was really unhealthy."

While he is proud of the serious tone in both his new films, George is adamant that he is not using his movies to make political points.

He said: "We are not trying to preach to anyone. Movies at their best can initiate discussions.

"You want people to be talking about your movie the day after seeing it."

The star's political views are well documented. He famously opposed America's involvement in Iraq.

He said: "I said we should ask some questions before we go to war. I thought that was a fair thing to say but suddenly I was being called a traitor on the cover of magazines.

"I was on a deck of cards that they called The Deck Of Traitors - every card hadmy picture - and my movies were picketed.

"But that is what freedom of speech is about, you have to take your shots."

George's natural charm, good looks and political awareness would seem the perfect combination for a future Presidential candidate but he insists he has no political aspirations.

"I had some interest a couple of years ago but then I worked on a TV show which meant that I spent 12 weeks with senators and congressmen. I have nothing but sympathy for them because I watched the deals they have to make and trade-offs they have to do. I couldn't do that.

"With my movies I get to have my own statements."

Syriana will be released in the UK on March 3. Good Night, and Good Luck is already in cinemas.

SUNDAYEMAIL reporters@sundaymail.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

High hopes: George is in the running for three Oscars' Fighting fit: Hunky George has battled back to health but has been left with a huge scar running from his neck to the base of his spine' Good Night, and Good Luck: Has six Bafta nominations and six Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Actor for David Strathairn, pictured above right with co-star Clooney.' Syriana: Has one Bafta nomination for Clooney, above left with co-star William Hurt, as best supporting actor. It also has two Oscar nominations for best screenplay and best supporting actor.
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 19, 2006
Words:965
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