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The Transformation Of Rob Lowe From Childhood To Parks And Recreation

When Rob Lowe first appeared on American televisions, he was just 15 years old, Jimmy Carter was president, and the first space shuttle had not yet taken flight. He has since appeared in more than 100 films and television programs and earned two dozen additional credits as a producer, director, and writer. Now approaching 60, Lowe stars as Owen Strand in the FOX firefighter drama "9-1-1: Lone Star."

He recently took supporting roles as Dr. Ethan Willis in the CBS hospital drama "Code Black" and Guy LeFranc in "Super Troopers 2." Lowe also voiced Simba in "The Lion Guard" and dysfunctional police detective Dazzle Novak in "Moonbeam City" (via IMDb), in addition to embracing some offbeat and self-effacing live-action roles.

In "The Grinder," Lowe picked up the most recent of his six Golden Globe nominations for playing Dean Sanderson, an actor who thinks his experience as a TV lawyer qualifies him to join his brother Stewart (Fred Savage) in running the family law firm. All in all, Lowe is at a great place in his career right now, and his success is likely to continue.

Before "9-1-1: Lone Star," Lowe's last role in a top network hit was as Chris Traeger on "Parks and Recreation," and his path from unknown teenager to grizzled screen veteran is a long and fascinating one.

Lowe's family moved repeatedly before settling in Malibu

Lowe was born in 1964 in Charlottesville, Virginia, to Barbara Hepler and Charles Lowe, although the family moved to Dayton, Ohio when Rob was just three months old so Charles could attend law school (via Dayton.com). The couple divorced when Rob was four, however, and he and his infant brother Chad went to live with their mother (via The Creative Coalition). Half-brother Micah Dyer — now a reality television producer — joined the family not long after (IMDb).

When Rob was 12 years old, Barbara remarried and moved her young family to Malibu. It would prove to be a difficult adjustment for the Lowes. Rob told The Guardian that in moving from Dayton to Southern California, "I might as well have been dropped in from Mars. I didn't surf. I don't think I had ever swum in the ocean." Lowe was sure of one thing, that he "wanted to be an actor. I had since I was eight or nine. It was like being hit by lightning." 

But good fortune struck when the Lowes ended up living across the street from the Sheen family: acting legend Martin and his sons Charlie and Emilio Estevez (via Los Angeles Times). With an encouraging support network in place, Lowe started auditioning and quickly landed his first role.

Lowe landed his first television role while still in high school

Lowe secured his first television role when he was just 15 years old, as Tony Flanagan in the one-season sitcom "A New Kind of Family." Although the show lasted just 11 episodes, Lowe had the chance to work with Eileen Brennan and — for three episodes – Janet Jackson (via IMDb). He followed that up with appearances in two episodes of "ABC Afterschool Specials," tackling two of the series' favorite subjects: teen pregnancy and cancer.

In 1980's "Schoolboy Father," Lowe plays Charles Elderberry, who, after a summer fling with Daisy Dallenger (Dana Plato), learns of his paternity through a newspaper announcement and fights Daisy for custody of their son. In the following year's "A Matter of Time," Lowe plays Jeff Bartlett, who tries to console his classmate Lisl Gilbert (Karlene Crockett) through her mother's cancer diagnosis and death.

His next project was the 1983 TV Movie "Thursday's Child." His portrayal of Sam Alden, a high school athlete stricken by a life-threatening heart condition, earned Lowe the first of his six Golden Globe nominations (Hollywood Foreign Press Association). But it was Lowe's next role which would catapult him, along with several of his friends, into stardom.

The Outsiders launched the careers of several young actors

When Francis Ford Coppola was casting his 1983 film adaptation of the S.E. Hinton novel "The Outsiders," he brought in an ensemble cast of mostly unknown actors. Leif Garrett was well-established as a child actor, and C. Thomas Howell, who plays 14-year-old Ponyboy Curtis, appeared in "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" the year before. But the rest of the cast — Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Diane Lane, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, Michelle Meyrink, and Emilio Estevez – all jump-started their long and fruitful acting careers with their performances in Coppola's masterpiece.

Lowe and Swayze play the older Curtis brothers, 17-year-old Sodapop and 20-year-old Darrel, respectively. The brothers run with the Greasers, a street gang whose conflict with the preppie Socs remains a popular enough story to warrant a theatrical re-release 40 years later (via Tulsa People). But at the time, the actors were green enough to be subject to some strange circumstances. Lowe told Kelly Clarkson that Coppola "found a bunch of different actual greasers who were now grown-up adults and made us go spend the night and live with them" (via The Today Show).

The talented cast, creative direction, and relatively faithful cinematic retelling of Hinton's novel combined to launch the careers of some of the biggest stars of the '80s and '90s. However, it wouldn't be long before a personal scandal almost derailed Lowe's professional life.

A major scandal prompted Lowe to seek help

Lowe would go on to star in 10 more movies in the next five years, including "The Hotel New Hampshire," "St. Elmo's Fire," and "About Last Night" (via IMDb). But in 1988, as AP News reports, Lowe faced possible serious criminal charges after allegedly filming a sexual encounter with a 16-year-old girl, although he claimed that he was unaware of her underage status at the time (via Yahoo!). 

He would later settle a lawsuit with the girl's mother, and he came to a pre-trial agreement with Fulton County prosecutors to avoid a full legal investigation the following year. Lowe ended up doing just 20 hours of community service (via AP News), but his career definitely foundered before a role in the 1990 psycho-thriller "Bad Influence" helped land him a Saturday Night Live hosting spot. 

But Lowe felt his substance abuse disorder was starting to wrest control from him. "Cocaine was the thing that successful people did," he told Variety. "There was always that wonderful moment when as an active drug abuser you'd go on the set and figure out which department was selling the coke on the set. It was no different than craft services." 

After failing to show up at the hospital after his grandfather suffered a heart attack, Lowe knew that he needed to get professional help for his addictions (via UC Health). Lowe credits rehab and his 31-year marriage to Sheryl Berkoff for his long and stable career since then (via Parade).

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Lowe's acting career took off again in the early 1990s

Once sober, Lowe dove right back into film with appearances in "The Dark Backward," "The Finest Hour," and "Wayne's World." Between 1993 and 2002 he would appear in 23 cinematic release and five made-for-television movies (via IMDb).

Lowe played a Navy Seal in "The Finest Hour," wild west outlaw Jesse James in "Frank and Jesse," and young architect Walter Woods in "Living in Peril." Although he appeared in the 1994 CBS mini-series "The Stand" and three television movies in the following four years, his focus remained primarily on cinema work, until he was reunited with old Malibu neighbor Martin Sheen on the set of "The West Wing" in 1999.

His seven seasons as White House staffer Sam Seaborn overlapped with ten arguably forgettable episodes as Las Vegas casino doctor Billy Grant in "Dr. Vegas." Lowe played mostly supporting roles otherwise, including Brad Kessler in "The Invention of Lying," Robert McCallister in "Brothers and Sisters," and Dan Winters in the widely-panned hockey dramedy "Breakaway."

In 2010, Lowe joined the cast of the NBC comedy "Parks and Recreation" as it was entering its second season, playing the perpetually cheery auditor Chris Traeger, and this role gained him many more fans and opportunities, helping him grow to be where he is now. While he currently stars in "9-1-1: Lone Star," Lowe also hosts the retrospective podcast "Parks and Recollection" with writer-producer-musician Alan Yang.