7 Reasons Why Rob Lowe Is the Ultimate '80s Icon

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Awesomeness in action. (Barry King/WireImage)
Awesomeness in action. (Barry King/WireImage)

Rob Lowe was the ‘80s.

The handsome actor started the decade somewhat innocently, then indulged himself at the height of his Brat Pack fame, and then saw it all go bust.

As Lowe debuts his new Fox sitcom, The Grinder, tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT, take a look back at the star in the “the Decade of Excess,” when audiences first fell in love with him.

1. He appeared in “ABC Afterschool Specials.” It doesn’t get much more '80s than this. After his first TV job on a short-lived sitcom called A New Kind of Family, Lowe starred in two melodramatic specials, most notably 1980’s Schoolboy Father, which was about a high school senior who finds out by reading a newspaper birth announcement that his summer camp girlfriend (Dana Plato of Diff'rent Strokes fame). She wants to give the baby up for adoption, but Lowe decides to fight for custody. Seriously.

2. He was an essential member of the Brat Pack. One of the most memorable relics of the '80s is the clique of young actors who partied together off-screen and worked together on-screen in movies like The Outsiders and St. Elmo’s Fire, better known as the Brat Pack. David Blum, then an editor at New York Magazine, coined the term after spending a night out in 1985 with some of the up-and-comers (Emilio Estevez, Lowe, and Judd Nelson) at the then-uber trendy Hard Rock Cafe in L.A. Lowe and the others were not pleased with the piece Blum wrote for the publication, but the moniker stuck. “According to the reporter, what he observed during our dinner wasn’t the exuberant comradery of peers but the obnoxious exploits of a pack of interchangeable pampered spoiled attention-seeking actors who were long on ambition and fame but short on talent or humanity,” Lowe wrote in his 2011 memoir, Stories I Only Tell My Friends. Still, Lowe had to appreciate that Blum dubbed him “The Most Beautiful Face” of the group.

Related: Photos of the Brat Pack: Then and Now

Lowe palled around with Tom Cruise and Emilio Estevez at a 1982 movie premiere. (Frank Edwards/Getty Images)
Lowe palled around with Tom Cruise and Emilio Estevez at a 1982 movie premiere. (Frank Edwards/Getty Images)

3. Literally, his hair. No explanation needed.

Sigh. (Everett Collection)
Sigh. (Everett Collection)

4. He dated other '80s teen idols. When Lowe was 17, he began dating Melissa Gilbert, the 17-year-old star of the long-running Little House on the Prairie. Their on-and-off relationship -– which included an engagement – lasted six years. He also romanced fellow Brat Packer Demi Moore and was linked to Winona Ryder, who would later become an icon of the '90s. Add in the fact that he was high school besties with Emilio Estevez and his brother, Charlie Sheen, as well as Sean Penn, Robert Downey Jr., Tom Cruise, and many other future stars, and Lowe was less than six degrees away from some of the biggest names in Tinseltown.

Lowe and Melissa Gilbert share a smooch, circa 1985. (Vinnie Zuffante/Getty Images)
Lowe and Melissa Gilbert share a smooch, circa 1985. (Vinnie Zuffante/Getty Images)

Related: Rob Lowe and Madonna Like Totally Could Have Been the Hottest '80s Couple Ever

5. He “played” the sax. Lowe’s character spends part of St. Elmo’s Fire pretending to jam on the the decade’s instrument of choice so intensely that it probably made the guys of Huey Lewis and the News jealous!

Lowe makes sweet music. (Everett Collection)
Lowe makes sweet music. (Everett Collection)

6. He took part in one of the most awesomely bad moments in all of '80s pop culture. That’s saying a lot for the decade that brought us New Coke and Howard the Duck. But on March 29, 1989, Lowe appeared on stage at the Oscars with an actress dressed as Snow White and proceeded to perform “Proud Mary"… not well. In the fallout, Disney sued over the unauthorized use of Snow White and, worse, respected actors such as Julie Andrews and Paul Newman called that year’s Academy Awards an "embarrassment.” Ouch. More than 20 years later, Lowe was good natured when he wrote about the incident in Stories I Only Tell My Friends: “Every star can make a bad movie or TV show. If you are lucky, you may get to stay in the business long enough to make several. But very few get to participate in a train wreck in front of a billion people.”

Related: Rob Lowe and Snow White Revisited: How the Most Notorious Show Changed Oscars

7. He was at the center of one of the biggest celeb scandals of the decade. In 1988, the 24-year-old About Last Night… actor partied at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. He met two young women at a bar, took them back to his hotel room, and proceeded to make what’s considered to be the first celebrity sex tape. Unfortunately for Lowe, the women took the tape and left while he was in the bathroom. And really unfortunately for him, one of the women turned out to be a minor. Clips from the video aired on tabloid TV in the summer of 1989, and the incident threatened to seriously damage Lowe’s career in a pre-Paris Hilton culture. Decades later, Lowe revealed to Oprah Winfrey that he was grateful for the experience. “It ends up being the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” he said. “Because what it ends up doing is accelerating my alcohol [addiction] to where I finally get sober.” Lowe went to rehab in 1990.

He married makeup artist Sheryl Berkoff in 1991, the lucky woman that he’s married to still, and raised two grown sons. Lowe’s stayed in demand as an actor, with roles in famed TV series The West Wing, the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, and 2013’s acclaimed HBO movie Behind the Candelabra.

When he released his first book in 2011, the former heartthrob revealed that he’d finally accepted his rightful place in '80s history as a member of the Brat Pack.

Lowe with Andrew McCarthy, Emilio Estevez, and Judd Nelson in a St. Elmo's Fire snapshot. (Everett Collection)
Lowe with Andrew McCarthy, Emilio Estevez, and Judd Nelson in a St. Elmo's Fire snapshot. (Everett Collection)

“I’m proud to be a part of something that, 25 years later, you guys all remember,” he told the Oprah crowd.

How could we ever forget?!