Known for his good looks and a career that seems to flag and revive on a regular basis, Rob Lowe is one of Hollywood’s perennial mainstays. From Hollywood Brat-Packer to faded star to mature actor, Lowe is proof that a good smile and a name that everyone remembers takes you a long way in the movies.
Robert Hepler Lowe was born to parents Chuck, a lawyer, and Barbara Hepler Lowe, a teacher. Lowe has one brother, Chad, who is four years younger and is also an actor. The family moved to Dayton, Ohio, when Lowe was a child but his parents divorced when he reached the age of four.
Lowe caught the acting bug early after seeing a production of 'Oliver' at the age of eight. He later described the experience as an epiphany. "When I saw those kids onstage, I wanted to be there. I loved acting because it was a world outside the world I was living in - a place where I could be someone else."
Lowe acted in local theatre productions and his good looks got him work in local television and modelling. By age 12 he had acted in over 30 stage productions.
His mother Barbara divorced for a second time and remarried a Californian. Lowe and his brother Chad moved with her out to Los Angeles, a move that small-town boy Lowe was nervous about. At Santa Monica High School Lowe’s mid-Western good looks got him teased as a “sissy’’.
He recalls: “I showed up in Malibu in my Levi Tough Skins, which were chic in Ohio, and all the other kids were surfers and volleyball players. It wasn’t a pretty picture.” Some of those other kids would turn out to be future fellow-stars including Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen and Sean Penn who all attended the school.
Lowe continued auditioning for parts and scored roles in television shows like 'A Matter of Time' and in 1979 landed a role on the series 'A New Kind of Family'. He eventually received a Golden Globe nomination for his role in 'Thursday’s Child'.
His first steps to real stardom came in 1983 with his role as Sodapop Curtis in Francis Ford Coppola’s classic 'The Outsiders'. The film, a tale of turf war between two teenage gangs, was a prophecy of future stardom. One movie poster shows a young Lowe with, (an also young) Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Emilio Estevez, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, and C Thomas Howell, all who would go on to find varying degrees of fame.
Two more film roles in 1984, 'Hotel New Hampshire' and 'Oxford Blues', saw Lowe named as a “Promising New Actor of 1984’’ in Screen World.
1985 saw the fledgling actor in the role that would define his early career. After 'Youngblood' with Patrick Swayze, Lowe appeared in the now-cult classic 'St Elmo’s Fire', starring opposite Estevez, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and others. Lowe played Billy Hicks, the college-jock of a group of recently graduated students trying to adjust to real life. Despite winning a Razzie award for Worst Supporting Actor, the film marked Lowe as one of the “Brat Pack” of new Hollywood talent that emerged in the mid 1980s.
In 1986, Lowe appeared in 'About Last Night' with fellow Brat Packer Demi Moore and comedian Jim Belushi. The following year Lowe branched out in his acting and played a mentally handicapped man in 'Square Dance', a role that garnered him his second Golden Globe nomination.
Two films in 1988, 'Masquerade' and 'Illegally Yours', were overshadowed by a sex-tape scandal that was a major blow to Lowe’s career. While attending the Democratic National Congress in Atlanta that year, Lowe was filmed in a three-in-a-bed romp with two females; one of whom was 16. Lowe said he did not know the girl was underage and it was later confirmed that they had met in a bar that the girl had entered by lying about her age.
The scandal continued to grow, however, when the tape of the incident leaked. On the tape was more footage of another threesome, this time with a young model and another man. That footage was leaked to the public and became one of the first widely-viewed celebrity sex tapes. Lowe served 20 hours of community service for having sex with a minor and his reputation was badly tarnished. He later entered a clinic and was treated for drug and sex addictions.
Lowe would later tell an interviewer: "When I was young and crazy, I was young and crazy. It can be hard enough just to be in your teens and 20s. Then add fame, money, access, and every single person telling you that you're the greatest person who ever was and it can be a recipe for disaster. Some people literally don't survive it."
1990’s 'Bad Influence' saw Lowe playing a murderous psychopath and it was also where he reconciled with make-up artist Sheryl Berkoff whom he had dated briefly seven years earlier. The couple were married about a year later.
Lowe made forays into comedy that year with the romantic comedy 'If The She Fits' and as host of Saturday Night Live in which he lampooned his troubles of the past few years. 1991 had two forgettable movies- 'The Dark Backward' and 'Finest Hour', though 1992 saw something of a turning point. That year Lowe made his Broadway debut in a production of 'Little Hotel On The Side' and he filmed 'Wayne’s World', a role that saw him revert to type - smarmy, good-looking and sleazy – but in a way that poked fun at his yuppie image.
In 1993 Lowe and Berkoff’s first child, Edward, was born. That year he made the film 'Fox Hunt' which was followed in 1994 by the role of deaf-mute Nick Andros in the television mini-series of Stephen King’s novel 'The Stand'. The same year Lowe produced and starred in the western 'Frank and Jesse' playing the outlaw Jesse James.
A second child, John, was born to the couple in 1995. A few small roles in 1996 were followed by an 'up' year in 1997 with part in the sci-fi movie 'Contact' with Jodie Foster, 'For Hire', 'Living in Peril', and an uncredited role in 'Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery'. He returned in the second Austin Powers movie, 'The Spy Who Shagged Me', in 1999 as a young version of the arch-villain’s right-hand man Number Two.
In 2000, spurred by both his mother and grandmother succumbing to breast cancer, Lowe became the first male spokesperson for the Lee Denim Day fundraiser which raises money to fight the disease.
Though it was films that had begun his career, a turn to television in 1999 would see Lowe in his most recognised part yet. Lowe took a starring role in the series 'The West Wing', a dramatic and idealised account of the American president and his White House staffers. The show was supposed to centre on Lowe’s presidential speech-writer character Sam Seaborne but the cast of the show was so strong that it became more of an ensemble piece. Despite his demotion from the limelight Lowe won an Emmy and two Golden Globe Award Nominations for Best Actor in a Drama Series. Lowe left the series in 2003 after disputes with the show’s creator Aaron Sorkin, who also quit with director and executive producer Thomas Schlamme soon after.
Several failed television shows followed until success in 2004 with another Stephen King-based mini-series, 'Salem’s Lot'. In 2005 Lowe appeared in a West End stage production of 'A Few Good Men' which had been written by West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin. The production received very good reviews. He then had a critically acclaimed role in the independent film 'Thank You For Smoking' in 2006 and he appeared in a guest-starring role in the series 'Brothers and Sisters'. His appearance there was well received and Lowe remained on the show to the end of the season and into the 2007 season also.
Most recently he's appeared in the movies 'The Invention Of Lying' opposite Ricky Gervais and in a hilarious turn as a plastic surgeon in 'Behind The Candelabra.' On television, he has had a recurring role in the critically-acclaimed 'Parks And Recreation'.
Lowe currently lives in Montecito, California with his wife and two children.