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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Scott Simon.

Rob Lowe has had boyish good looks for so long, its easy to resent him as undeserving. As a kid in Dayton, Ohio, he knocked on Liza Minnellis hotel room door and stayed to chat, have some chocolates, before she told him: See you in Hollywood, kid. And just a few years later he was, in fact, a Hollywood star.

But Rob Lowe is also a child of divorce, a veteran of alcoholism, and someone whose career has gone up and down. Hes written a great Hollywood memoir, "Stories I Only Tell My Friends." And by the way, his friends range from Francis Ford Coppola to Martin Sheen, and Michael Dukakis to Mike Meyers.

Rob Lowe joins us from New York.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. ROB LOWE (Actor/Author, "Stories I Only Tell My Friends"): Thanks for having me.

SIMON: When your family moved to California, you didn't exactly run around with the dead-end kids there, did you, as you look back on it?

Mr. LOWE: Well, no. I mean, for the first time, I met people my own age that wanted to act, and that wanted to be filmmakers. And as opposed to being beaten up for it, I found friends who were like-minded. And they were my next-door neighbors, the Sheens. But it was great to fall in with a crowd that had similar likes.

SIMON: Speaking of days as a Hollywood teenager, well, what was it like to get to the home of a girl named Jennifer, and have Cary Grant answer the door?

Mr. LOWE: Well, in a show of exactly how callow I was as a youth, I wasnt really aware of Cary Grant's filmography. I knew Cary Granite from the "Flintstones."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LOWE: That, I knew. So when I went to her house and we were going to watch my very first television appearance on an Afterschool Special, and he said: Young man, do you mind if I watch with you? I thought yeah, you crazy old guy. Sure, whatever. Come on in.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LOWE: And ignorance truly is bliss because if I had known what I know about Cary - obviously - today, I would have been petrified. But it worked out great because at the end, he was very kind and really gracious. And he said: I thought you were quite good; you reminded me of a young Warren Beatty.

Now, Warren Beatty, I knew. So it was a good day.

SIMON: You first got a lot of attention in "The Outsiders," directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

Mr. LOWE: Right.

SIMON: Of course, that's a film with Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze...

Mr. LOWE: Tom Cruise, Diane Lane.

SIMON: Yeah. Let me put it this way: Did you all know you'd be famous?

Mr. LOWE: It's interesting. The movie did very well but we thought the movie was going to be "Star Wars." It was not. We never thought we would all be famous. We all were. So it was, slightly, a different experience from what we thought. I don't think any of us thought that it would be the beginning of - for a lot of us - a very, very, very, long, long, long career. But it was - and it was an amazing, amazing launch pad for many of us.

SIMON: When did you start drinking in a harmful way?

Mr. LOWE: Well, and that's just the thing - is, when does it become harmful? I mean, on "The Outsiders" - this is how different moviemaking is - we would get in the van, and they would have beers for us. Now, some actors were 15 years old. I was just 18. And you drink a beer and think nothing of it, so I started then. And I think incrementally, without even knowing it, it became just a big part of my life - to the point where it was such a part of my life that I decided that I needed to go and get help, and did.

SIMON: You know, it's inescapable, as you read through the book, that there were times - let me put this nicely - you're a big star doing drugs, drinking, having romances left and right...

Mr. LOWE: You know what? As my mother would say - God rest her - burning the candle at both ends.

SIMON: And you were not happy, were you?

Mr. LOWE: No. And people say, why is there so much alcoholism and drug addiction around Hollywood? And I don't think it has anything to do with Hollywood. I think that people are drawn to Hollywood who are looking to fill something missing in them. And performing does that. But then when you reach the mountain top, you realize you're still the same. It didn't fill you up.

SIMON: Well, 1988 Democratic convention...

Mr. LOWE: Yes.

SIMON: ...there was a new technology called portable video, I guess. And you, two women in a hotel room in Atlanta. This was before YouTube.

Mr. LOWE: This was before YouTube and also, it was the era - just even in politics - where it was still wild and woolly. You know, the tradition of hard drinking, hard-charging, political roughnecks was still really alive and well. Conventions were - it's not the sanitized infomercial, corporate, no-surprises-allowed conventions that we have today. It's almost unimaginable to go back and remember what that was like.

That said, one of those big wild nights, you know, we all go out to a club. I try to get in, and they won't let me in without my I.D., which I left back in the car. So once I finally got my I.D. and went in, it never occurred to me that anybody else would not be 21. But you know, I went out and met two girls, had some fun and used the new technology - as everybody does today. I was just a groundbreaker and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LOWE: ...it was a different world, different time.

SIMON: Its amazing well, you have a note about this how big that story was at the time.

Mr. LOWE: Shocking. I mean, this is how I knew I was in some serious trouble, because I turned on the TV; I led the evening news - Tom Brokaw. And the second story literally was: And in Tiananmen Square today, in the 6,000-year history of China, Democratic uprising is rearing its fantastic head.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LOWE: That was - the second story was Tiananmen Square. Its unbelieve and now like, you know, every actor in the world has to have, you know, a naked photo in the Internet.

SIMON: Yeah. I wonder, did your friends stick with you through that? Or I guess we say, did your real friends, did you lose some others and not hear from some other people?

Mr. LOWE: Well, look, I dont want to paint the picture that my real friends deserted me. I certainly had some friends. But I got to be honest, I did a lot of work for a lot of people, and traveled a lot of miles on behalf of candidates and, you know, the party and things like that - and they ran for the hills.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. LOWE: Looking back, I get it. It's called politics for a reason. But it definitely influenced, and gave me a new view, into what that relationship between celebrities and politicians and activism is really all about at the end of the day.

SIMON: Well, forgive me for being this blunt - to the point of vulgar - but when you say you learned what it's all about at the end of the day, you mean that they're using you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LOWE: Yeah. You know what it is? I think that it's - celebrities and politicians sort of bask in each other's reflective glory, each one being filled by the other a part that they're individually missing.

SIMON: Mmm. So you fill in the glamour for them, they fill in the...

Mr. LOWE: Gravitas. Yeah.

SIMON: Boy. Theres some - a wonderful poetic touch in the fact that you wind up in the West Wing...

Mr. LOWE: Mm-hmm.

SIMON: ...Sam Seaborn, writing speeches for President Bartlet - played by Martin Sheen, when you had at least partly grown up at the Sheen household.

Mr. LOWE: Yeah. And so whenever Sam and Martin would have scenes, they were so charged for me...

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. LOWE: ...because of my history with him. And I'd like to think that that was captured in the show.

SIMON: I have to ask this, given the times in which we live. Do you have any thoughts about your old friend Charlie Sheen you'd like to share?

Mr. LOWE: Well, you know, Charlie and I have been in contact up until - it's been about five weeks now. But when he began this sort of troubling time, we were talking via text. And you know, listen, its tough because I've known him since he was 13. And I love him, and I love Martin and the whole family. And I'm also, you know, 21 years sober, so I have a perspective that's probably unique to his experience. You know, he knows where I am. He knows I'm available. He knows I'm ready to help. But hes doing it his way, and part of me has to, you know, respect that. He's not being a hypocrite. I don't agree with it.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. LOWE: But you know, it's sort of - is what it is.

SIMON: Since you've been there and back, what does make a difference to someone, to be able to turn your life around?

Mr. LOWE: You need to, literally, be done. 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 was just done. I wanted a new life. Different people take different events to get them to that place. Some people have to go way, way down - and other people dont.

SIMON: Mr. Lowe, a pleasure. Thanks so much for all your time.

Mr. LOWE: Thank you. It's really been fun. I appreciate it.

SIMON: Rob Lowe - his memoir, Stories I Only Tell My Friends.

And you can hear Rob Lowe read from his book about his friendship with John Kennedy Jr. at npr.org.

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