Ed Note: This story appears in the Fall issue of Renew.
By Kelly Burch
It seems like Rob Lowe has been a pillar in Hollywood forever.
From his early days with the Brat Pack in the 1980’s, staring in classics like St. Elmo’s Fire, The Outsiders and Austin Powers to his more recent television roles in The West Wing and Parks and Recreation, Lowe’s good looks and sense of humor have brought joy to millions of Americans.
However, Lowe’s life wasn’t always filled with joy. Like many Hollywood stars, he struggled with addiction. On the set of The Outsiders, people would think nothing of providing beer to stars as young as 15.
“It was a culture that was so different,” Lowe told NPR in 2011, while promoting his memoir, Stories I Only Tell My Friends. “Without even knowing it, [drinking] became just a big part of my life to the point where … I decided that I needed to go and get help.”
In 1988, Lowe’s hard partying caught up with him, when a tape of an alcohol-fueled tryst with two women – one of whom was under age – hit the national news.
The scandal was the rock bottom that so many addicts need to hit before entering treatment. Lowe was ready to change his ways.
“When I was ready, when I went to rehab, if they told me to go stand in a corner with my clothes off, standing on my head, I would have done it. I wouldn't have asked questions,” he told NPR. “I wanted to change, I wanted a new life.”
Twenty-five years later, Lowe is a beacon of hope for people struggling with addiction in Hollywood. Last May, he celebrated a quarter-century of sobriety, tweeting, “To those struggling with addiction, there is real, true hope. 25 years ago today, I found recovery; and a life of promise. #Grateful.”
In September, Lowe received the Spirit of Sobriety Award at the Brent Shapiro Foundation’s 10th Anniversary Summer Spectacular Gala. Lowe began his speech with a touch of humor, saying to the audience, “Hello I’m Rob, I’m an alcoholic. Your line is ‘Hi Rob.’” However, he quickly became more serious, highlighting the gifts that sobriety has bought into his life.
Here are his words:
“Thank-you. It’s always good to be honored by somebody from the fellowship, and I always feel so at home when I meet those of us in that great club around the world.
Back before I got in recovery I truly was poor-decision-making Rob Lowe (referring to his popular television commercial). First of all want to thank Bob and Linell. When Bob first asked me to join you all tonight it was an instant yes, because I would have nothing in my life without recovery and I know that the only way anyone can get recovery is to have support and fellowship and infrastructure and that’s what tonight is all about. So thank-you to everyone who has showed up and to those of you who wrote the checks. You can’t image what it means to someone who is struggling.
I also want to thank my wife Sheryl. She inspired me to get sober and she’s put up with my defects of character (as they call it) ever since. In sobriety the lessons keep coming if you’re lucky enough to be around as long as I have, and she’s stood by me through all of this.
Being in recovery has given me everything of value that I have in my life… integrity, honesty, fearlessness, faith, a relationship with God, energy, focus and most of all gratitude. It has given me a beautiful family and an amazing career. I’m under no illusions about where I would be without the gift of alcoholism and the chance to recovery from it.
At some point in life everyone must establish their relationship with alcohol and drugs. Some are blessed to never have a conscious self-negotiation with it. They can take it or leave it. But for others, for reasons that it can take a lifetime to track, they’re destined to be battered by and sometimes lost to the mysterious need to fill themselves with the dangerous, lovely compounds that transport them out of themselves.
I’m one of the later. But I’m lucky to have found another path, with the help of some of you in this room, and I walk it still 25 years later.
I have such empathy and respect for the Brent Shapiro Foundation. As a parent, one of the most complicated difficult and scary jobs that we have is helping our kids establish their relationship with drugs and alcohol. There is no rulebook. Each case is different. There’s no right or wrong way to parent this culturally gigantic issue for young people. And the most significant and frustratingly frightening fact for families struggling with addiction is there’s only one person who can truly save the addict/alcoholic and that is the addict/alcoholic themselves.
Our job is to set healthy boundaries, pay close attention, be present, be tough or supportive as needed, and to intervene early and not too late if things get critical. And we may have to [intervene] many times before it takes. But there will be painful false starts but we never give up because that’s what love is. Love is patient. There’s no room for denial or equivocating or explaining. If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck don’t think it’s not a duck – it’s a duck.
None of this is possible without support. It’s Saturday night, the end of summer here in L.A. You could all be doing other things, but you came here. And that support is building the infrastructure and the lovely safety net that can hopefully hold those [who are] struggling.