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A onetime teen star riding the wake of his heartthrob brother, Rob, Chad Lowe won professional laurels early in his career before paralleling his sibling's pattern of personal turmoil and journeyman's acting résumé. A Midwestern boy transplanted to the West Coast at an early age, Lowe found his way to Hollywood as a teenager, landing the title role on the sitcom, "Spencer" (NBC, 1984-85), and went on to win an Emmy Award for his portrayal of a young man suffering from AIDS on the family drama "Life Goes On" (ABC, 1989-1993). He did a stint on Aaron Spelling's primetime soap "Melrose Place" (Fox, 1992-99), and the next year married longtime girlfriend, and another of Spelling's stars, Hilary Swank. But within a matter of years, Swank's career eclipsed Lowe's, as she rose to become one of the most lauded actors in Hollywood, earning two Best Actress Oscars in ensuing years. Ever less enamored with his own roles, mostly TV series guest roles and minor film work, he developed a substance abuse problem, which ultimately helped lead to their divorce in 2006. He rebounded by directing the well-received indie feature "Beautiful Ohio" (2006), and, in another bit of symmetry with Rob's roller-coaster career,...
A onetime teen star riding the wake of his heartthrob brother, Rob, Chad Lowe won professional laurels early in his career before paralleling his sibling's pattern of personal turmoil and journeyman's acting résumé. A Midwestern boy transplanted to the West Coast at an early age, Lowe found his way to Hollywood as a teenager, landing the title role on the sitcom, "Spencer" (NBC, 1984-85), and went on to win an Emmy Award for his portrayal of a young man suffering from AIDS on the family drama "Life Goes On" (ABC, 1989-1993). He did a stint on Aaron Spelling's primetime soap "Melrose Place" (Fox, 1992-99), and the next year married longtime girlfriend, and another of Spelling's stars, Hilary Swank. But within a matter of years, Swank's career eclipsed Lowe's, as she rose to become one of the most lauded actors in Hollywood, earning two Best Actress Oscars in ensuing years. Ever less enamored with his own roles, mostly TV series guest roles and minor film work, he developed a substance abuse problem, which ultimately helped lead to their divorce in 2006. He rebounded by directing the well-received indie feature "Beautiful Ohio" (2006), and, in another bit of symmetry with Rob's roller-coaster career, which had seen a revival on the political drama "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006), he made his most intensive return to TV playing a presidential advisor on "24" (Fox, 2001-2010). Though having lived a cautionary story of the high expectations and resulting pitfalls that too often accompanied youthful stardom, Lowe also demonstrated the twin assets so often needed in to stay afloat Hollywood: resilience and reinvention.
He was born Jan. 15, 1968 in Dayton, OH to teacher and writer Barbara Lowe and lawyer Chuck Lowe. The Lowes divorced when the boys were in elementary school. Barbara remarried, and in 1976, she and their new stepfather, psychiatrist Steve Wilson, moved the family to California. Brother Rob had done some child parts in regional theater in Dayton and not long after the move, he signed with an agent. The Lowe boys were further exposed to showbiz circles via nearby neighbors, the Martin Sheen family, and by attending Santa Monica High School, where they came up with a new generation of actors that included Sheen's sons Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen. By the early 1980s, the older Lowe, Estevez and a cadre of young cohorts had been canonized by tabloids as "the Brat Pack" in a series of youth-oriented films, which had the cultural ripple effect of creating a wave of teen-oriented TV shows, which would prove a boon to the younger Lowe. With only a few telefilms under his belt, he landed a starring role on the irreverent primetime sitcom "Spencer," playing the title character, a rare TV "bad" kid who bridles at authority but whose guile manages to pull him out of his jams. After the initial order of only seven episodes, Lowe had his own issues with authority, clashing with producers, reportedly over his billing and the show's creative direction, as well as his salary. Curiously, the Spencer character was recast, and the show was radically retooled as "Under One Roof" (1985) and did not survive long.
Lowe bowed out of television work for a few years as he finished school, returning to the limelight in mostly TV and B-grade feature films, notable among them a CBS "School Break Special" (1984-1995) about date-rape called "No Means No" (1988), for which he earned a Daytime Emmy nomination; "April Morning" (CBS, 1988), a "Hallmark Hall of Fame" (NBC/CBS/Hallmark, 1951- ) production about the early spark of the American Revolution; the dark thriller alongside Donald Sutherland, "Apprentice to Murder" (1988); and a starring turn in the low-budget actioner "True Blood" (1989). Though his brother's career would hit hard times in 1988 amid a sex scandal involving an underage girl, Lowe landed a curiously (onetime) Rob Lowe-esque project in "Nobody's Perfect" (1989), a screwball comedy about a disgraced college tennis player who makes himself over as a woman to get closer to the female tennis player he is obsessed with. He played a slimy socialite murderer in ABC's miniseries version of Dominick Dunne's true-crime bestseller "An Inconvenient Woman" (1991), and also joined the cast that year of ABC's groundbreaking family drama "Life Goes On," famously the first show to feature an actor with Down syndrome, Chris Burke, as central to the cast. Lowe came in as a Jesse, friend of one of the family's daughters who is struggling to live with AIDS, and he reportedly based his performance on that of a friend who had also dealt with the deadly virus, a performance that won him the 1993 Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama.
But the accolade would not buoy his career past the steady diet of also-ran films; sometimes soapy TV movies such as "Candles in the Dark" (1993), "Fighting for My Daughter" (1995) and "Dare to Love" (1995) and sometimes indie features such as "Driven" (1996), "Do Me a Favor" (1997), "The Others" (1997), "Suicide: The Comedy" (1998) and "Floating" (1999). In 1996, he returned to television in a featured guest role on Aaron Spelling's salacious soap "Melrose Place," appearing through the 1996-97 season, even as his girlfriend, Swank, won her own big breakthrough, a recurring role on the upcoming season of Spelling's "Beverly Hills 90210." The two, who had begun dating in 1992, appeared in their first feature together in the roundly panned, Angelino-slice-of-life ensemble drama "Quiet Days in Hollywood" (1997), and they married in September of that year. But within a few years, while much of Lowe's work came in brief recurring TV stints on the likes of "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009), "Popular" (The WB, 1999-2001) and "Now and Again" (CBS, 1999-2000), Swank would rise to the top of Hollywood's acting totem. She won an Oscar for her portrayal of the cross-dressing lesbian in the much-lauded indie film "Boys Don't Cry" (1999), the juxtaposition of their career fortunes exacerbated, at least on tabloid terms, when she forgot to mention Lowe in her acceptance speech at the 2000 Academy Awards ceremony.
He picked up a high-profile job in CBS's biopic of singer-songwriter John Denver in "Take Me Home: The John Denver Story" (2000), but the anachronism-ridden film and his performance met with less than glowing reviews. He directed Swank and himself in the comedic short "The Audition" (2000), which they would follow with another short, "The Space Between," in 2002. Lowe earned leads in minor projects such as the indie "Your Guardian" (2001), the TBS sci-fi outing "Acceptable Risk" (2001), and the Hallmark-produced family tearjerker "Fielder's Choice" (2005), even as he managed supporting turns in more auspicious outings such as the big-budget thriller "Unfaithful" (2002) and the somber indie period drama "Red Betsy" (2003). But with that and the balance of his work coming in one-off guest-shots on such popular primetime dramas as "CSI: Miami" (CBS, 2002- ), "Without a Trace" (CBS, 2002- ) and "Medium" (NBC/CBS, 2005- ), Lowe became disillusioned with his career, coping by developing an addiction to a substance never publicly undisclosed. He kept it a secret from Swank for a time, but she eventually helped him kick his habit. In 2005 she won her second Oscar, for "Million Dollar Baby" (2004), and they divorced the next year, with Swank later suggesting Lowe's addiction had strained the relationship.
Swank raised eyebrows, not least of which was Lowe's, when she revealed his problem and his three years of sobriety in a 2006 interview in Vanity Fair. They remained amicable, however, and Swank helped produce Lowe's feature film directorial debut, "Beautiful Ohio" (2006), a quirky coming-of-age tale adapted from a story by celebrated author Ethan Canin. Starring a mix of young up-and-coming talent and veteran thespians such as William Hurt, Rita Wilson and Julianna Margulies, the movie was well-reviewed in limited release, even scoring Lowe a laurel for direction at the Sarasota Film Festival. The next year, he scored his biggest acting job in years, taking on a role as a nefarious deputy chief of staff to the U.S. president on Fox's episodic action series "24." Also in 2007, he picked up the first of semi-regular directing work with another Fox series, the offbeat police procedural "Bones" (2005- ), which would yield a one-off guest-starring job in 2009. In 2010, he landed a cast slot with ABC Family's "Pretty Little Liars" (2010- ), soapy drama based on the popular series of young adult-oriented novels about four teen girls harboring untoward secrets.
By Matthew Grimm
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In 1991, Lowe began doing volunteer work for a Los Angeles homeless shelter called The Los Angeles Youth Network. He runs group discussions for homeless teens.
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