American Pop 33

AMERICANPOP33: 1980s ‘BRAT PACK’ then and now …

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AMERICAN POP’S 1980s BRAT PACKERS:  James Spader, Jennifer Connelly, Judd Nelson, Robert Downey Jr, Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Ally Sheedy, Patrick Dempsey, Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe

I’ve come full circle about the 1980’s. For the longest time I brazenly turned my back on the very decade responsible for the unceremonious birth of the certifiable lunatic which inhabits the deepest recesses of my mind. Indeed, I was ungrateful. As part of the last class of the 1980s, when I stepped into the 1990s it immediately felt like I belonged there. Here’s the thing, as it turns out a major right of passage for being cool in the 1990’s … was to be snobbish about the 1980’s. It took a long time for this habit to wear away. The truth is …the 1980’s established more than a few some indispensible trends in American pop culture. 

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When you’re a teenager there aren’t many ideas not worthy of exploration. In my case, sneaking into movie theatres was an idea definitely worth exploring. So we explored walking into the theatre by standing at the rear exists, waiting for people to leave so that we could catch the next show …. and usually the show after that. 

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The 1980’s  were a decade rich with all things American consumerism, and it was very good to be flying in the rarefied air of the young, rich, and famous in Hollywood. The late great John Hughes’s movies were as much a part of popular culture as Sassoon jeans, parachute pants, and hairspray. Some of the films of the 1980’s are classics that have lasted the test of time, the hairspray? Not so much. The young Hollywood stars of the era were coined ‘The Brat Pack’ by David Blum in his 1985 cover story in New York Magazine. The actors themselves didn’t care for the tag, especially Rob Lowe, he hated it. However, the moniker stuck. The reality is that this group of young stars extended well beyond the original five. AmericanPop thought it would be worth the road trip to revisit some of the more notable ‘Brats’ and their achievements. Let’s take a look-see what life looks like for them today,  both aesthetically, and otherwise. Enjoy!

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Throughout his illustrious acting career, James Spader has made an art form of playing quirky, albeit eccentric, occasionally unhinged characters. The 1980’s were his decade of ascendance to pop culture prominence. In subsequent years, Spader successfully honed his acting talent from raw to fine. By decades end, his performance as Graham Dalton in Sex, Lies, and Videotape’ (1989), garnered Spader the ‘Best Actor’ Award at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2003 James Spader was awarded a Primetime Emmy for ‘Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series‘ for his work on the hit ABC series ‘The Practice’. Currently, James remains a highly sought after Hollywood talent.

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Jennifer Connelly has come a very long way since her feature film debut at 14 years old, in the 1984 ‘Godfather-esque’ crime drama ‘Once Upon a Time in America’. Hers is an example of a successful transition from the novelty of adorable child actor to the legitimacy of a dramatic adult performer. Jennifer came to national prominence upon the release and subsequent success of the 1986 fantasy film ‘Labyrinth’. Connelly lit up the screen playing opposite the late great David Bowie. Her career has been stellar in subsequent decades. In 2002, Jennifer Connelly achieved the acting ‘triple crown’ for her portrayal of ‘Alicia Nash’ in Director Ron Howard’s biopic, ‘A Beautiful Mind’. She was awarded ‘Best Supporting Actor’ at the Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, and BAFTA Award ceremonies. respectfully. Jennifer Connelly has proven to be a wonderful talent whose work has entertained millions. 

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Full disclosure, I was one among untold legions of adolescent American boys who idolized Director John Hughes’s 1985 classic film ‘The Breakfast Club’. Of particular admiration and/or focus were the exploits and attitude of the rule dodging renegade, ‘burner’ character named ‘John Bender’. If Judd Nelson never did another film in his career, he would remain a legend for this role. It was that good. Nelson showed his versatility as an actor the following year with his role as straight-laced political neophyte with a wandering eye, Alec Newbary in Director Joel Schumacher’s coming of age film classic, ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’. Nelson has had a wonderful acting career, and in 1991 he starred in yet another classic film, playing detective Nick Peretti in Director Mario Van Peebles crime drama, ‘New jack City’. In the mid-1990’s Nelson played the notable character Jack Richmond in NBC’s ‘Suddenly Susan’. Indeed, Judd Nelson has maintained a career full of excellent character work and continues to entertain audiences well into the 21st century.

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Of all of the talented artists and entertainers of ‘Brat Pack’ lineage, perhaps none can claim greater dominion in terms of god given ability and transcendent talent, than the great Robert Downey Jr. The progeny of artists from Greenwich Village, New York, Downey had a promising start in the 1980’s with roles in films such as ‘Weird Science’ ‘Johnny Be Good’, and Director James Toback’s ‘The Pick-Up Artist’. However, it was his role as the drug addict ‘Julian’ in ‘Less Than Zero’ (1987) that made audiences and critics alike…pause. Perhaps he was so good because it was a role that imitated Downey Jr’s life at the time. Whatever the reason, he was amazing. In 1992, Robert Downey Jr played Charlie Chaplin in the biopic, ‘Chaplin’. All he did was win the BAFTA Award for ‘Best Actor in a Leading Role’, in addition to earning an Academy Award nomination for ‘Best Actor’.  Despite this success, at times Robert Downey was a complicated and troubled man. His personal demons allowed him to stumble often through his late twenties until he finally crashed and burned his way into prison in his 30’s. However, Robert Downey Jr was able to resurrect his life and career in his early 40s. Today he is one of the most bankable A-List movie stars in the world. A remarkable, perhaps impossible feat for persons of lesser talent, or simply ‘normal’. However, Robert Downey Jr is certainly no ordinary talent. 

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One would be forgiven for the belief that Anthony Michael Hall appeared in virtually every great movie during the 1980’s. The truth is that Hall wasn’t in every film. However, the films he did star in were all pretty great. These included, Director Harold Ramis’s classic 1983 comedy National Lampoon’s Vacation, John Hughes’s classics ‘The Breakfast Club’ and ‘Sixteen Candles’, ‘Weird Science’, and ‘Johnny Be Good’. Anthony Michael Hall was also a ‘Saturday Night Live’ cast member during the 1985-86 season. No too shabby Michael, not too shabby at all.   

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Once upon a time during the 1980s, the beauty and talents of actor Molly Ringwald were the apple of many an American teenage boy eye. Ringwald had the market cornered on playing the girl next door in classic 1980s films such as John Hughes’s classics ‘Sixteen Candles’, ‘Pretty in Pink’, and ‘The Breakfast Club’. Prior to those films, in 1982, young Molly Ringwald earned a Golden Globe nomination for her role in ‘Tempest‘. Molly may be all grown up now, but for members of a certain generation of Americans, the crush hasn’t quite faded.

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During the 1980’s and into the 1990’s Andrew McCarthy was a very hot coal among the band of young hot talented coals known as the ‘Brat Pack’. Indeed, McCarthy starred in classic films such as ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’, ‘Mannequin’, ‘Weekend at Bernies’, ‘Pretty in Pink’, and ‘Less Than Zero‘. An impressive list to be sure. In subsequent decades McCarthy has starred in television series such as  ‘Lipstick Jungle’, ‘White Collar’, and ‘Royal Pains’. So it should go without saying that Andrew McCarthy has had a prolific Hollywood career by any reasonable standard.

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The always gifted and charming Ally Sheedy became part of American pop culture consciousness in the 1980’s with a notable role in the film ‘Bad Boys’ (1983). Sheedy followed that up with staring roles in iconic films such as ‘The Breakfast Club’, and ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’. Ally’s career saw a resurgence in the late 1990’s with her role in the critically acclaimed film ‘High Art’ (1998) for which she was awarded ‘Best Actress’ at the Independent Spirit Awards, and Los Angeles Film Critics Association, as well  as the National Society of Film Critics. If there was any question as to Ally Sheedy’s acting chops, her 1998 run on the award circuit answered them with certainty. 

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The pointedly understated talented member of the Sheen family business, Emilio Estevez has made quite a career for himself. Starting in the 1980’s with starring classic roles in critically acclaimed films such as ‘The Outsiders’, and ‘Repo Man’. Estevez also starred in classic hit films, ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’, and ‘The Breakfast Club’. Emilio has since followed up his tremendous 1980’s emergence with the super successful ‘Mighty Ducks’film franchise. Everybody loves Emilio Estevez. His controversial brother Charlie Sheen? Weeeeeellllll….

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Before he was the heart throbbing neurosurgeon Dr. Derek Shepherd (aka McDreamy) on the ABC hit drama Grey’s Anatomy, Patrick Dempsey was an understated, boyishly charmed member of the 1980’s ‘Brat Pack’ brigade. Following starring roles in hit films such as ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ (1987), and ‘Loverboy’ (1989), Patrick Dempsey’s career took off like a bat out of hell. Audience’s worldwide have been entertained ever since. It should be noted that Patrick Dempsey (52) has aged with amazing grace. 

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What superlatives can be said about the talents and beauty of the incomparable Demi Moore, that hasn’t already been repeated ad nauseum? Not much apparently. Demi Moore moved into the confines of American pop culture royalty and our collective hearts starting with her 1981 soap opera appearances on ‘General Hospital‘. Success she followed up with starring roles in films such as ‘Blame It on Rio’ (1984), ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’ (1985). Then in 1986 she took Hollywood by storm with a stellar performance in her starring role opposite Rob Lowe in the classic romantic comedy-drama, ‘About Last Night’Demi Moore has become a true Hollywood starlet in every sense of the word, and her career has been exceptionally successful. 

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Perhaps the iconic face of the ‘Brat Pack‘, Rob Lowe enjoyed a notable film career early on in the 1980’s. However, he will be most remembered for his television career which has been prolific. With project credits that match the Hollywood Walk of Fame Star he has been endowed with,  Lowe has starred in classic Hollywood blockbuster films such as ‘The Outsiders’, ‘Oxford Blues‘, ‘About Last Night‘, and of course the all-time cult classic, ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’. He has followed up his 1980’s success with dozens of memorable television roles including the Emmy Award winning  ‘West Wing’.  Rob Lowe has the looks of a man with ageless grace. His Hollywood career has been remarkable. Not bad for a man who almost quit the business in the days just before being cast in the ‘Outsiders’


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