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Dorn was born in Luling, Texas, the son of Allie Lee (ne Nauls) and Fentress Dorn, Jr. He grew up in Pasadena, California. He studied radio and television production at the Pasadena City College. From there he pursued a career in music as a performer with several different rock music bands, travelling to San Francisco and then back to Los Angeles.
He first appeared as a guest on the television show W.E.B. in 1978. The producer was impressed with his work, so he introduced Michael to an agent who introduced him to acting teacher Charles Conrad to study acting for six months. He then landed a regular role on the television series CHiPs. The first movie he had a role in was Rocky (1976) as Apollo Creed's bodyguard.
Dorn's most famous role to date is that of the Klingon Starfleet officer Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He said he got the role by showing up at the interview with several people. He did not smile or speak or sit, but stood in a corner in rigid attention posture, like the stereotypical Klingon warrior. When called, he marched into the room, scowled, and shook the interviewer's hand sharply. After reading, he gruffly thanked the director, and walked out. He attributes this reading in character as a Klingon warrior to getting the part.
Dorn has appeared on-screen in more Star Trek episodes and movies as the same character than anyone else. He appeared in 175 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, missing three: Code of Honor, Haven and 'shades of Gray. He appeared in 100 episodes of Deep Space Nine, missing four during his time on the show: Rocks and Shoals, The Magnificent Ferengi, Chrysalis and Prodigal Daughter. He has also appeared in five Star Trek movies bringing his total to 280 appearances. Colm Meaney is the only other person who has made over 200 appearances on Star Trek with 216 episodes; Majel Barrett had 233 appearances but many of these were voice only.
Dorn also appeared in the film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country as Colonel Worf. As Colonel Worf, he represented Captain James T. Kirk and Dr. Leonard McCoy at their trial on QO'noS and also unmasked the real assassin Colonel West. Although never confirmed on screen, the character of Colonel Worf was intended to be the grandfather of Star Trek: The Next Generation's Worf.
Dorn's voice deepened from his years of playing Worf. His two favorite episodes of The Next Generation are The Offspring and The Drumhead.