As a teen icon and established Brat Pack star, Rob Lowe made his name in The Outsiders and St Elmo’s Fire. However, his career took a tumultuous turn when a 1988 sex tape scandal shocked fans, and his screen opportunities fell away.
Under the guidance of Mike Myers, he began to build a career in comedy work, from Wayne’s World and the Austin Powers franchise to becoming a season regular on Parks and Recreation. He also made an astonishing TV comeback with The West Wing, garnering Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for his role in the ground-breaking politics series. Most recently, his podcast Literally! with Rob Lowe has garnered celebrity guests like Conan O’Brien and Chris Pratt.
From a unique high-school experience to star-making rivalries, here are 20 things you probably didn’t know about Rob Lowe.
20. He was an inspiration for Dr Evil in the Austin Powers movies
Mike Myers and Rob Lowe first became friends when Lowe hosted Saturday Night Live in 1990.
The pair reunited to film the comedy Wayne’s World in 1992, where Myers trained Lowe in being “professionally funny.”
In fact, Lowe made his character Benjamin, a miserable TV producer, into a parody of SNL creator Lorne Michaels.
As a result, Myers took comedic inspiration from his own student’s work and put it into his own franchise.
According to Rolling Stone, Myers borrowed elements of Lowe’s Benjamin persona for Dr Evil in the Austin Powers movies.
Lowe stars in the Austin Powers movies too, with a role as Young Number Two in the second film. He also has a bit part as a partygoers in the first film, International Man of Mystery.
19. He’s deaf in one ear
You might not have known Lowe became deaf in his right ear when he was a baby.
He has commented that it was most likely the result of undetected mumps in his infancy.
But Rob Lowe is far from the only Hollywood A-lister who lives with a hearing impairment.
He’s joked about how, when asked to ‘phone’ someone with his right ear for movie scenes, he misses the spot entirely.
Stephen Colbert, William Shatner and Halle Berry have also spoken out about experiencing deafness or reduced hearing.
Glee star Jane Lynch, just like Rob Lowe, has been deaf in her right ear ever since she was a baby.
18. He was friends with Robert Downey Jr and Charlie Sheen at school
Santa Monica High School was full of future stars in the 1970s – and some almost uncanny friendships formed.
Lowe attended the school along with Sean Penn, Robert Downey Jr and Charlie Sheen.
As friends, they used to dream up movies together and film them in back yards.
In 1977, when Lowe and Sheen were 13, they created a film in Sheen’s garden entitled The Beast.
Around 40 years later, it premiered at the Royal Festival Hall, in Lowe’s live show Things I Only Tell My Friends.
At the time, Lowe commented that their scenes were “the stupidest movie ever committed to video tape.”
17. He won the Worst Actor Razzie for his performance in St Elmo’s Fire
At the 1986 Razzies (a popular parody award ceremony), Lowe won the Worst Supporting Actor Award for St Elmo’s Fire.
This box office hit grossed $37.8 million but it wasn’t too popular with cinema critics.
“The latest kiddie angst movie, it’s thin gruel for introspective whelps,” commented critic Paul Attanasio at the time.
“And if I never see another movie with Rob Lowe mooning over his own girlish looks it’ll be too soon,” he noted.
Lowe was up for the award against the supporting stars of Godzilla 1985, Turk 182, King Solomon’s Mines and Rocky IV.
However, Lowe is highly unusual in receiving a single nomination for the Razzies, winning it, and then never again being nominated for this dubious honour.
16. He took a pack of beer into his St Elmo’s Fire audition
In the early 80s, Rob Lowe made sure his audition for St Elmo’s Fire was memorable by carrying with him a six-pack of Corona beers.
According to Yahoo News, Lowe pitched himself to the filmmakers while swigging his way through the supply.
In the role of Billy Hicks, Lowe was the youngest lead cast member in the movie, aged 19.
Thrown into the spotlight at a young age, Lowe developed a heavy drinking habit – and in his 20s he entered an alcohol rehabilitation programme.
“It became an outlet for all of the tension, stresses, compulsivity,” he reflected to Oprah Winfrey in 2014. “I funnelled the addiction, frankly, into that.”
Five years after St Elmo’s Fire, Lowe quit drinking and he has remained sober ever since.
15. He says there’s a film industry bias against good-looking people
In an interview with ABC News in 2014, Lowe stated that pretty people’s problems are often taken less seriously.
“There’s this unbelievable bias and prejudice against quote-unquote good-looking people,” he’s said of the film industry.
People assume “that they can’t be in pain or they can’t have rough lives or be deep or interesting,” he said.
“They can’t be any of the things that you long to play as an actor,” he added. “I’m getting to play those parts now and loving it.”
“When I was a teen idol, I was so goddamn pretty I wouldn’t have taken myself seriously,” Lowe said.
On the other hand, Lowe described himself as a “nerd” in high school, noting, “it took being famous to make me cool, which, by the way, I never forgot.”
14. He worked on the campaign to make Arnold Schwarzenegger Governor of California
Arnold Schwarzenegger launched his campaign to become Governor of California on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 2003.
Schwarzenegger’s long-time friend Lowe was all prepared for the challenge, and he stepped in as a volunteer.
He said of the Terminator star, “He’s a leader… That’s what we need right now, because the state’s in real trouble.”
Lowe took the lead in organising Schwarzenegger’s many celebrity endorsements from across the state.
Speaking to Jimmy Kimmel in 2019, Lowe discussed his enduring friendship with Schwarzenegger, describing him as “always the life of the party.”
He’s said he works out with Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, saying he shared a gym with the latter during the filming of Rambo.
13. He once hunted – and at one point thought he was going to be killed by – Bigfoot
For Lowe’s 2017 docuseries The Lowe Files, he travelled across the USA in pursuit of strange and supernatural sightings.
Accompanying him were his sons John and Matthew, the latter of whom is an actor and producer like his father.
Lowe told Entertainment Weekly that the trio had a terrifying encounter while filming in the Ozark Mountains.
While camping, they heard a large creature approaching their site. Lowe said he laid on the ground, fearing it was the legendary creature Bigfoot.
He’s since said that he thought he was going to die – admitting this made him sound like a “crazy, Hollywood kook.”
“For it to be an utter hoax it would have to be someone hoaxing people for hundreds of years across many different cultures, across many different geographical locations,” Lowe of Bigfoot in a Huffington Post interview. “And maybe everybody had that idea and did it. But what we actually came across in that episode, I was actually on the ground and scared.”
12. He was in the running to play the villain in Titanic
Lowe came close to playing the villain in Titanic – the first film to ever gross over $1 billion.
He tried out for the role of the wealthy heir Caledon Hockley, Rose’s cruel and controlling fiancé.
Instead, the part was won by Billy Zane, best known for starting his career in the Back to the Future franchise.
In 2021, on his podcast, Lowe commiserated with Matthew McConaughey, who lost the role of Jack to Leonardo DiCaprio.
Lowe also missed out on the role of Dr Derek Shepard in Grey’s Anatomy, which premiered in 2005.
He was offered the part, but turned it down, choosing instead to star in the quickly cancelled legal drama The Lyon’s Den.
11. The age gap between Lowe and his on-screen ‘mother’ in Tommy Boy is only seven years
The 1995 action comedy Tommy Boy stars Lowe as Paul, the soon-to-be stepbrother of the film’s hero Tommy.
Meanwhile, Tommy and his widowed father Big Tom are played by Chris Farley and Brian Dennehy respectively.
Bo Derek plays Paul’s mother, despite being only seven and a half years older than Lowe.
However, the plot takes a twist when Paul and his mother are revealed to be con artists.
It transpires that the pair are in fact a married couple rather than a parent and child.
Coincidentally, the film was directed by Lorne Michaels, whom Rob Lowe parodied in Wayne’s World.
10. His 5x-great-grandfather fought for both Britain and the States in the American Revolution
Rob Lowe’s 5x-great-grandfather, John Christopher East, fought for Britain in the Battle of Trenton during the American Revolution.
A Hessian soldier, East travelled from Germany to fight on Britain’s side against American independence.
East was captured by Washington’s army at Trenton and became a prisoner of war in 1776.
Records show, however, that John East later decided to become a soldier on the American side.
After this revelation on Who Do You Think You Are? in 2010, Lowe was granted membership of the descendent group Sons of the American Revolution.
He travelled to Germany and Washington, DC for this episode, which uncovered his unusual heritage. Lowe is of German, English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh ancestry.
9. He learned to ice-skate for Youngblood
In 1986, Lowe starred in the hockey drama Youngblood – working once again with future Dirty Dancing star Patrick Swayze, who played Lowe’s brother in The Outsiders.
Swayze was lucky enough to already have some training as a figure skater, and he picked up hockey with relative ease.
Their co-star Keanu Reeves was already a skilled player, showing off his talent in the De La Salle’s College team in Toronto, Ontario.
Lowe, however – who was the same age as Reeves, and two years Swayze’s junior – could not skate at all.
The young star had to train hard to reach a decent standard of skating for the movie.
“I don’t like any sport where you’re already exhausted when you’re done putting on the equipment,” he commented on ice hockey training. “But that said, once I got the equipment on and was out on the ice, I loved that.”
8. Parks and Rec was based on The West Wing
In an interview on The Diane Rehm Show, Rob Lowe recalled his audition for Parks and Rec.
He wound up playing Chris Traeger, the relentlessly positive City Manager who aspires to live to the age of 150.
In his audition, the show’s creators told Lowe that Parks and Rec was based on The West Wing – often considered Lowe’s greatest work.
He remembered them telling him: “’We’re comedy writers. We’re going to write a comedy, but what would the comedy version of The West Wing look like?’”
“And the answer to them was, it wouldn’t be the White House,” Lowe explained. “It would be Parks and Recreation.”
Rob Lowe starred in Parks and Rec alongside Nick Offerman, another alumnus of The West Wing.
7. He trained with real firefighters to prepare for 9-1-1 Lone Star
In 2019, Lowe began filming as the lead role in the drama series 9-1-1 Lone Star, a Texas-set spin-off of 9-1-1.
In this critically acclaimed series, he plays Owen Strand, a firefighter captain and 9/11 survivor.
For the role, Lowe trained alongside real firefighters, shadowing them for emergency call-outs. Among the show’s extras were real firefighters and paramedics.
But Lowe had already witnessed the work of firefighters on a more personal level, as wildfires have ravaged the land near his home in Santa Barbara.
“I had [firefighters] staged at my house,” Lowe has said of his experiences during wildfires. “I was feeding them.”
“I was really interested in why these men and women do what they do, what does it mean to them, how do they go and sleep in the dirt for weeks on end, if it comes to that, pull the kind of hours,” he noted.
6. He met his wife on a blind date
Lowe first met his future wife Sheryl Berkoff on a blind date back in 1983, around the time he starred in The Outsiders and Class.
They reunited while working together on the 1990 psychological thriller Bad Influence. Berkoff is a makeup artist.
She has also made her name in the fashion industry as a jewelry designer, running an eponymous business.
They married in 1991 and have two sons together, Matthew and John, born in 1993 and 1995.
Through his wife, Lowe has an even closer connection to his Parks and Rec co-star Chris Pratt.
Berkoff is godmother to Katherine Schwarzenegger (the eldest daughter of Arnold Schwarzenegger) – and Katherine married Pratt in 2019.
5. The Lyon’s Den was shot in a fume-filled paint factory to cut costs
Lowe’s autobiography Love Life, published in 2014, details some of the pitfalls of filming the doomed series The Lyon’s Den.
Cancelled after six episodes, the drama was shot in an empty paint factory in the San Fernando Valley to cut costs.
According to Lowe, the air conditioning didn’t work at the site, meaning that residual paint fumes rose up on hot days.
The fumes were so strong that on several occasions, they caused crew members to faint at work.
In another troubling incident, wildfires were tearing through the valley, and many local businesses began to evacuate.
Lowe recalled how the neighbouring sex toy factory sent their staff away as a safety precaution – but the Lyon’s Den actors were not allowed to leave.
4. He devised the dumbest ending possible for The Lyon’s Den after it was cancelled
Lowe stars as lawyer Jack Turner in the 2003 TV drama series The Lyon’s Den, which was cancelled in its first year.
However, the cast and crew were expected to film 13 more episodes for DVD release only.
Speaking to NPR in 2014, Lowe explained, “With that as the backdrop, the writers and I decide, you know what? To hell with it. We’re going to burn the bridges…”
“And so we decided to write my character as a sociopathic maniac who was revealed to be a mass murderer,” Lowe said.
“And this is how little the studio and the network cared about the show,” he added.
“When we told them we were going to write that, they were like, ‘that sounds great.’”
3. He says a rivalry with The Sopranos made The West Wing better
According to Empire Online, Rob Lowe thrived on The West Wing thanks to an intense rivalry with The Sopranos.
He described the six-season series with admiration, calling it “the Manchester United to our Chelsea.”
“It was great to have them there [on air], because it inspired everybody,” he noted. “That show’s extraordinary; it’s my second favourite TV show ever made.”
He also commented that The Sopranos enjoyed “luxuries” that The West Wing never had.
“Can you imagine what The West Wing could’ve been… if they’d let Aaron write a script that was as long or as short as he wanted it to be?” he asked.
“We made The West Wing under the creatively crushing stipulations of network television and that it not only competed but excelled against cable is amazing,” Lowe asserted.
2. His three brothers all work in movies
Lowe’s parents divorced when he was four years old, and he was raised alongside his younger brother Chad.
The pair grew up in Drayton, Ohio, but the family later relocated to California where Rob and Chad attended Santa Monica High School together.
Chad Lowe is an Emmy Award-winning actor, best known for starring in Life Goes On, ER, Melrose Place and Pretty Little Liars.
The Lowe brothers also have two half-siblings through their parents’ second marriages: Micah Dyer and Justin Lowe.
Justin Lowe is a cinematographer and screenwriter who has worked on Redwing and Facing Darkness.
Micah Dyer is a producer and actor. He appeared with Rob Lowe in the movies Desert’s Edge and Frank & Jesse.
1. One critic described Lowe’s ITV show Wild Bill as “the weirdest cast I’ve ever seen”
Lowe was both the male lead and executive producer of Wild Bill, a 2019 British comedy series.
The show depicts a widowed American cop who moves to Lincolnshire, England with his teenage daughter.
It was cancelled by ITV after a single series, following mixed reviews and criticisms that it was muddled.
“It’s like they picked random words out of a raffle and then went ‘Rob Lowe, cabbage patch, Boston police cop, ITV, six episodes, thank you very much’,” wrote BBC reviewer Scott Bryan.
“This whole thing is so loopy,” he added. “…Casting-wise, this is the weirdest cast I’ve ever seen.”
Lowe’s co-stars included Rachel Stirling, Anjli Mohindra, Tony Pitts and Aloreia Spencer in her screen debut.