In Hollywood, it’s a sad but familiar story when a child star’s life and career is ripped apart by addiction. Heartthrob and beloved Brat Pack member Rob Lowe was headed for such self-destruction in the late ’80s, just years after his career took off. Already astronomically famous by the age of 18, he made every mistake in the child actor’s playbook before getting sober in 1990. In an uncommon story of redemption, he turned his life around and saw his career and family life flourish. Read on to learn how he hit rock bottom, and why the star now says his alcoholism was a “gift.”
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Lowe rose to near-instant fame at the age of 18 after starring in the 1983 film The Outsiders opposite Emilio Estevez. Soon after, in 1985, he solidified his A-list status by joining the Brat Pack in the cast of St. Elmo’s Fire.
However, the actor’s early success in Hollywood came with a price, he said in 2019 while reflecting on the years of addiction that followed. “It’s not a great recipe for success to give an 18-year-old male fame, money, drugs and expect there not to be something that goes wrong,” the West Wing actor shared on SiriusXM’s The Jess Cagle Show.
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By the end of the ’80s, Lowe was deep in the throes of his alcoholism and embroiled in a private tape scandal that hobbled his career. While he has credited the scandal with pushing him toward sobriety, he says his true rock bottom came after an eye-opening interaction with his mother.
“My mother called me and I could hear her voice on the answering machine. I didn’t want to pick up because I was really, really hungover and I didn’t want her to know,” he told Variety in 2021. “She was telling me that my grandfather, who I loved, was in critical condition in the hospital and she needed my help. And I didn’t pick up,” he said. “My thought process in that moment was ‘I need to drink a half a bottle of tequila right now so I can go to sleep so I can wake up so I can pick up this phone.'”
In this moment, he realized just how desperate his situation had become. “It was like a badly written moment in a soap opera—complete with the walk into the bathroom and looking at myself in the mirror,” the Parks and Recreation star recalled.
In 1990, Lowe entered a rehab facility and cleaned up his life. Now over 30 years sober, he regards his experience with drugs and alcohol as a “gift,” he said in 2015 while receiving the Spirit of Sobriety award in Beverly Hills, California.
“Recovery is a road of many surprising, unexpected gifts,” he told People before the award show. He later elaborated in his acceptance speech: “Being in recovery has given me everything of value that I have in my life: integrity, honesty, fearlessness, faith, a relationship with God, and most of all gratitude. It’s given me a beautiful family and an amazing career. I’m under no illusions where I would be without the gift of alcoholism and the chance to recover from it,” the 9-1-1: Lone Star actor said, addressing the crowd.
“One of the great gifts of recovery is that you start living your authentic life. You start living your actual values and living as who you truly are,” he later added while speaking with Variety.
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After three decades of sobriety, Lowe continues to use his platform as a Hollywood star to help others struggling with addiction. “The only way to stay in recovery is to be honest with yourself on a minute-by-minute basis. No secrets, no double life. And you have to get real,” he told Variety.
He adds that for him, the key recovery was entering rehab when he was genuinely ready to make a change. “Nothing can make you get sober except you wanting to do it,” he told the magazine. “The threat of losing a marriage, losing a job, incarceration—you name the threat, it will not be enough to do it. It’s got to be in you. The reason that people don’t get sober 100 percent of the time when they go into programs is that people aren’t ready when they go to use the tools.” He added: “I wasn’t ready until I was ready.”
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