Rob Lowe

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If you were a guy in the 80s, you hated Rob Lowe at first sight. Because you had seen him. If you fancied yourself a good-looker, a real Don Juan of the rollerskating rink, so to speak, you were humbled. If you weren’t good-looking and knew it but had finally come to somehow accept it, laying eyes on Rob was still alarming. It was like God was “rubbing it in.” It was like our Creator saying, “See what I can create when I actually try? See how lazy I was the day I decided to fling you together out of spoiled cold cuts and a bunch of old wire hangers I had sitting around? See?”

Because the guy was downright perfect-looking. As Jim Belushi says to him in …About Last Night: “The best thing that could happen to you is an industrial accident.”

Well, that didn’t happen but a different kind of tragedy did. After impressing Francis Ford Coppola enough to cast him as Sodapop Curtis in The Outsiders–a movie that was basically the giving tree of 80s child actors–Rob, more so than any of them, and that includes Tom Cruise, seemed destined for major stardom. For a short while, he thrived, playing cocky, handsome rakes and smug assholes. Something happened in the late 80s, though, a certain pioneering incident involving a sex tape that sent his career off course for quite a while. Perhaps people really were outraged about his hotel room tape at the time, but now the footage looks as innocent as a Davey and Goliath cartoon compared to the clips that have followed. America seemed to realize this, and Rob slowly worked his way back into the public’s good graces, almost primarily working on television.

A lot of his comeback, I think, had to do with his own good nature. If he had come across like an off-screen dick the way, say, Judd Nelson always had, he may very well have been shunned forever. He hasn’t made any significant forays back onto the big screen yet, and perhaps he never will, but I don’t think he cares. He does television series (I think several at the same time at points, or maybe it just seems that way), made for TV movies (including a highly entertaining one about white trash hottie/murderess Casey Anthony) and even DirecTV ads. In these he plays himself opposite a bizarro world alter-ego, but this latter is one role he doesn’t quite pull off–even in full “super creep” make-up, you can see the sweet, grounded guy behind the mask.

Robin Williams

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He emerged in the late 70s–a stand-up comedian of an undeniable originality and brilliance. His 1978 HBO special was staggering–an explosion of lightning-speed, gear-shifting improv that elbowed its hairy way into the pantheon of great comic performances the second it was recorded. A chance meeting with Arthur Fonzarelli at a Milwaukee leather bar landed him a cameo on a dying (Fonzie had literally jumped the infamous tiger shark earlier that same season) television show and he made enough of an impression to be handed his own show, in which he excelled. As the 80s dawned he, and Steve Martin, were considered the cream of the crop of the new young comedians.

Hollywood beckoned. But even as early as 1984’s Moscow on the Hudson, you could see the cream starting to curdle a bit as Robin hammed it up and chewed on the scenery like it was so many bowls of Bugles left out by craft service. In quality, the 80s were probably his peak, as he managed to give (generally) low-key and nuanced performances–with The World According to Garp, Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poets Society the highlights. Even the early 90s granted “us” a brief stay from the ugliness to come as he turned in some solid work in The Fisher King and the beloved zombie movie Awakenings.

Then it all went pear-shaped. His inability to turn his hyperkinetic zaniness “off” was probably pathological. It certainly didn’t do the guy any favors. Witness his enormous three decade body of work as an insufferable, out-of-control talk show guest. If you can. I simply could never watch these psychotic episodes for more than 30 seconds before switching over to QVC’s baseball card show or Tony Little’s latest miracle body-swelling implement infomercial. Whether Robin really was coked up or parodying someone coked up doesn’t matter a bit–leaping around the set treating both the host and any other guest(s) who happened to be around as pieces of furniture while screeching out non sequiturs in the same rote half-dozen “funny voices” he had cooked up in 1975 (flamboyant Stonewall-era hair dresser, stentorian Big Brother/God type, hybrid of the witches from The Wizard of Oz, panicked pilot in a nosediving fighter plane, addled Slavic peasant, feces-flinging monkey gifted with the power of speech) hardly qualified as humor. He simply wasn’t funny. Just sit still and answer the question in a succinct and coherent manner, sir!! But he couldn’t.

As far as his movies go, his greatest shortcoming seemed to be an inability or unwillingness to turn down any script or cinematic concept that came his way, no matter how wretched it was. For every One Hour Photo there were five or six Jakob The Liars. For every Good Will Hunting there were seemingly TWENTY Old Dogs. As long as he got to “do his thing,” as long as the role called for him to be insane, mawkish, vulnerable, uncontrollable, childlike, madcap, tearfully sentimental, filled with unfathomable wonder, or any combination of such, he was all in. The very lowest point was something called Patch Adams–cited by one critic as the worst crime against humanity since the dark days of Europe in the early 1940s. I actually just spent 15 minutes on IMDB and determined that 80% of his filmography is completely unwatchable. This must be a record of some sort. Tor Johnson, the poster child for appearing in worthless dreck, clocks in at only 60% on the same exact scale, for Heaven’s sake!

But back to Robin. Innately talented? Yes. Good-hearted guy? It certainly appears that way. National Treasure? Give me a fucking break.

Patrick Swayze

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“She” was like the wind, and the wind is something you can’t hold onto, but plenty of women wanted to hold onto the man who sang that song, a certain Mr. Patrick Swayze.

I wasn’t one for either Ghost or Dirty Dancing but those movies were huge, taken straight to the top of the box office heap by a predominately female audience ravenous for everything Patrick. And this attraction to him has never abated. A 2013 poll taken by Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP magazine found that a whopping 73% of all newlywed women play the DVD of Dirty Dancing on their wedding night in order to physically prepare themselves for the consummation of their marriage vows. And Gwyneth herself once told Sally Jessy Raphael that her biggest regret in life was that Patrick wasn’t the one who “popped her cherry.” Now that’s a fellow with sex appeal!

But Patrick could also win over the guys in the audience, too–he was the rough and tumble older brother in The Outsiders and bad-ass commie fighter Jed in Red Dawn. And then, of course, we have Road House. There was a certain dwarf-like creature who emerged alongside Patrick in the 80s, a guy who danced around in his underwear, flew fighter jets, and helped drive that retarded dude to Los Angeles in a string of hit movies. Yes, they tried to tell us Thomas Cruise Mapother IV was the biggest star of them all, but I’d like to see Maverick last even 10 minutes in the Double Deuce. It would never happen. Dalton would break him down like a fistful of chowder crackers and not move a hair of that incredible coiffure out of place while doing it.

No, Swayze was the main man in the 80s and the best was yet to come. For we hadn’t even seen Bodhi yet.