Remember The Outsiders’ Ponyboy Curtis, C Thomas Howell? Here He Is Now!
‘The Outsiders’ came out in 1984 and included some of the biggest stars then and now. It was based on a book written by S.E. Hinton and centered around the differences between those with money and those without. Therefore, you were either a ‘Greaser’ or a ‘Soc’. Ultimately, the two sides struggle and rumble their way into a better understanding of each other.
This movie packed plenty of incredible young talent, from Patrick Swayze (the Dirty Dancing star-to-be) and Tom Cruise to Ralph Macchio of Karate Kid fame. But the protagonist of this tale is Ponyboy, the youngest of the three Curtis brothers. He’s a gentle soul among the Greasers, but he steps up to become a hero amid gang warfare in this classic coming-of-age drama.
Ponyboy was played by C. Thomas Howell, in his second ever acting role on the big screen. Thanks to the movie’s success, whatever came next for Howell was sure to be plentiful – and as it happens, he had a multitude of movie opportunities that continue to this day. We’re taking a closer look at what became of this rising star, and how he became one of the more prolific actors in Hollywood.
Before The Outsiders, C Thomas Howell was a rodeo star
“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.” Ponyboy is the narrator of The Outsiders, and he’s writing the story of his troubles to share with his English class.
Long before he was cast as Ponyboy, C. Thomas Howell had an adventurous streak much like his character – and he had a slightly different career path in mind from acting.
Born on December 7, 1966, Christopher Thomas Howell began life in Van Nuys, Los Angeles as one of four siblings – with sisters Stacy and Candy and brother John. Known as Tom, he lived with his mother Candice and his new stepfather after his parents divorced.
However, the young Tom clearly took after his father.
C Thomas Howell’s father, Christopher Howell, is a rodeo performer and stunt coordinator. His film credits include 1997’s Air Force One, 2001’s Swordfish and 2011’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Aged 74, he still competes in rodeo events. Following in his father’s footsteps, Tom took up stunt work as a child, and he became a junior rodeo circuit champion.
His first experience on a big movie set was 1980’s Night of the Juggler, a neo-noir crime drama. He joined his dad to perform stunts in the movie, which came out when he was only 13.
Howell also had a handful of TV and commercial appearances, including one episode of the Brian Keith Show in 1973.
But it was E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial that firmly set him on the path to acting. Howell was chosen by Steven Spielberg to play Tyler, a buddy of the hero Elliot’s older brother Michael. Tyler teases Elliot by describing E.T. as his “goblin.”
Following E.T.’s spectacular and unprecedented success, the 15-year-old Howell was then cast in his first lead role as Ponyboy Curtis in The Outsiders, directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
C Thomas Howell was pranked relentlessly on the set of The Outsiders
The Outsiders was filmed on location in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1982. Behind the scenes, the young cast was up to mischief: Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise and Patrick Swayze were reportedly keen pranksters, often targeting Howell and Diane Lane.
“I remember one early morning, probably having worked all night,” Howell recalled to Variety in 2018. “I stumbled into my hotel room ready to go to sleep and literally everything in my hotel room, from a penny to my bed, had been turned upside down.”
Despite the pranking chaos, Howell produced an outstanding performance and won the Young Artist Award for Best Young Motion Picture Actor in a Feature Film.
The Warner Bros film earned $33.7 million at the box office on a budget of $10 million, and it later became something of a cult classic.
To this day, both the novel and the movie adaptation of The Outsiders are taught in schools for their unique take on teenage struggles, poverty and neglect. Howell himself, as well as his co-star Macchio who played Ponyboy’s loyal friend Johnny, often visit schools to give their perspective on the tale.
“It’s one of my favorite things I do,” Howell has commented on his school visits. “I’ll come in to speak to them after the screening of the film. It affects these kids so deeply still.”
Howell has starred in over 200 movies and TV shows since The Outsiders
The Outsiders marked the beginning of the Brat Pack era – with actors (and teen heartthrobs) like Rob Lowe, Diane Lane and Emilio Estévez starting their careers in this movie.
In The Outsiders, Ponyboy’s eldest brother, and his fierce guardian after their parents’ death, is played by Patrick Swayze. Swayze and Howell would reunite for two more movies soon after The Outsiders: they co-starred in Grandview, USA and Red Dawn the very next year.
Patrick Swayze became very successful and was a great actor, proving his versatility with a wide variety of roles in projects as diverse as Dirty Dancing, Ghost, Road House and Donnie Darko. Sadly Swayze passed away in 2009.
Meanwhile, Howell has starred in over 200 films since The Outsiders, though this 80s classic remains one of his best-known performances. In the same decade, Howell was apparently almost cast in two other hit movies roles: he missed out on playing Daniel in Karate Kid (a role won by his Outsiders co-star Ralph Macchio), and he narrowly lost the role of Marty McFly in Back to the Future.
But Howell has starred in plenty of other famous movies over the past four decades, including Soul Man, Secret Admirer and The Hitcher. The former of these was heavily criticised for showing Howell in blackface. Howell defended the film fiercely, claiming, “A white man donning blackface is taboo. Conversation over — you can’t win. But our intentions were pure: we wanted to make a funny movie that had a message about racism.”
He’s twice played the real-life soldier Thomas Chamberlain, in the period war dramas Gettysburg, and God and Generals.
He’s no stranger to huge franchises either. Howell played Troy in 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, as well as voicing Professor Zoom in Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox and Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay.
Howell also stars as an unnamed Hilltop resident in The Walking Dead. This mysterious character survived the zombie outbreak in unknown circumstances, and he guards the Hilltop Colony, appearing in season 9 and the upcoming season 11.
In seasons one and three of TNT’s Animal Kingdom, Howell played Paul Belmont, single father to protagonist J’s girlfriend Nicky Belmont. The crime drama series saw Howell’s Paul caught up in violent feuds between gangs in Oceanside, California.
Howell’s other recent projects include Stitchers, A Question of Faith, The Punisher and Beast Mode. He has just completed a couple more projects and looks like he’ll be staying busy for a while to come yet!
He almost died from a ruptured appendix
By the early 2000s, Howell was raising a family. He began dating Rae Dawn Chong after they appeared together in 1986’s Soul Man; the pair married in 1989 but divorced after one year of marriage in 1990. Since 1992, Howell has been married to Sylvie Anderson, with whom he has three children: Dashiell, Liam and Isabelle.
However, this star and father faced a serious setback in 2003, when he suffered a ruptured appendix. This dangerous condition almost killed him. He spent four weeks in hospital and had surgery to remove three feet of intestine.
Dropping 45 pounds in weight, his appearance onscreen in the following years was noticeably more gaunt, with many fans wrongly speculating that he had AIDS.
A strict regimen of exercise and careful diets helped Howell to recover, and he was soon back on the big screen in full force: he appeared in five movies the very next year.
He won a celebrity magician competition
Aside from over 200 acting roles, Howell has also directed seven films over the course of his career: The Genesis Code, the Land That Time Forgot, The Day the Earth Stopped, War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave; The Big Fall, Pure Danger and Hourglass.
In 2008, he showed off yet another skill set when he starred in the US reality show Celebracadabra, where celebrtities compete to learn magic tricks. Howell was crowned Greatest Celebrity Magician, winning the series.
We’re waiting to see Howell in three upcoming movies: Mama’s Eggnog, The Express, and Crimson Point, where he’ll play a man wrongly convicted of murdering his daughter. This skilful star will surely feature in many varied movies to come!