Family & Companions
When he was in his teens this baby-faced leading man's career blossomed with his affecting performance as Ponyboy Curtis, the sensitive greaser with the soul of a writer, in Francis Ford Coppola's classic, "The Outsiders" (1983). Then, as quickly as his Tiger Beat status began, the bottom fell out after only a few years. Despite such minor hits as "Red Dawn" (1984) and "Soul Man" (1986), Howell's career descended into direct-to-video flicks and filler TV movies for the latter part of the decade, into the 1990s. Of the all-star cast of "The Outsiders," Howell's big screen success was later overshadowed by Ralph Macchio's "Karate Kid," Emilio Estevez's Brat Pack films -- to say nothing of Tom Cruise's "Top Gun" superstardom. Seemingly fine with his post-"Outsider" status, Howell continued to shine as an actor, even if the majority of the more than 50 films he appeared in were less than memorable.
Born Dec. 7, 1966 in Los Angeles, CA, Christopher Thomas Howell was born the son of a stuntman and rodeo rider. By age four, he started acting, appearing in "The Little People," a NBC TV-series starring Brian Keith as a doctor in Hawaii, as well as "It Happened One Christmas," with Marlo Thomas. The youngster Howell was more interested in pursuing the rodeo circuit, than having an acting career. He traveled extensively with the rodeo and was named the California Junior Rodeo Association's All Around Junior Boy's Champion for 1980 and 1981.
In 1981, Howell landed his first important, albeit, small role in the biggest film of 1982 -- a little extraterrestrial flick called "E.T." (1982). Howell played one of the teens on flying bicycles who help the alien get to his spaceship before bad humans can experiment on him.
From Steven Spielberg to Francis Ford Coppola, young Howell was on a role. In early 1982, Coppola selected Howell from the best and brightest of young actors at that time for the lead in the much-anticipated adaptation of S.E. Hinton's novel, "The Outsiders." His Ponyboy Curtis was a troubled but sensitive young man, destined to be a writer and rise out of the greaser status he was born into. The cast of the film included future megastars of the 1980s and beyond: Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio and Diane Lane. The film, released in early 1983, became an obsession for teenage girls who plastered their lockers with their favorite greasers. Like many films, it later gained a cult status it had not achieved upon initial release.
On the heels of such adoration, Howell starred in four films in 1984: the forgettable "Grandview USA" (1984) with older onscreen "Outsiders" brother, Swayze; the now guilty pleasure, "Red Dawn" (1984), starring alongside Swayze yet again, as part of a group of guerrilla teens fighting Soviet and Cuban invaders in America's heartland; and finally, "Tank," in which he played the son of James Garner, who busts Howell out of jail with said tank. Continuing his brief successful run were two roles that still resound today w/ fans old and new -- "Secret Admirer" (1985) and "Hitcher" (1986). The former romantic comedy still inspires nostalgia with the 30-somethings who took it to heart at the time. On a personal note, during the filming, Howell fell in love with and married his co-star, actress and daughter of Tommy Chong, Rae Dawn Chong. "Hitcher" provided Howell with a critically well received role as the hapless driver who runs afoul of Rutger Hauer and his frighteningly evil doings. The big missed opportunity: Howell was nearly cast as Marty McFly in 1985's "Back to the Future." The role was originally given to Eric Stoltz (who was later fired in the middle of filming) and then finally, Michael J. Fox.
After the box-office failure of "A Tiger's Tale" (1988), in which he played the love interest of Ann-Margret, Howell's career skidded to a near halt. "Breaking the Rules" (1991), in which he was a young lawyer-turned-volley ball player, was often considered one of the worst movies of all time. "That Night" (1993) cast him as Juliette Lewis' bad boy beau, but also went nowhere. That same year, he starred as the younger, energetic brother of Joshua Chamberlain, hero of Little Round Top (Jeff Daniels), in "Gettysburg."
Howell returned to TV with the short-lived 1996 Fox series, "Kindred: The Embraced," in which he was seemingly miscast as a tough cop. His boyish looks and thin physique were at odds with the tough character he was portraying. Howell's 1997 output included modestly-budgeted action thrillers and the HBO movie, "The Big Fall," which again found him playing a detective.
In 1995, Howell moved behind the camera to film "Hourglass," a semi-sequel to "The Hitcher" that was released directly to video. A similar fate befell his sophomore effort, "Pure Danger" (1995).
By the early part of the next decade, Howell had other, more important issues on him mind. In 2003 he was hospitalized for four weeks due to a ruptured appendix, a very serious illness that would have been fatal if not treated on time. He lost 45 pounds after surgeons removed three feet of his intestine among other things in order to save his life. His sudden gaunt look aged him beyond his years in all his movies between 2003 and 2005. Although he recovered, he worked hard to put weight back on and follow a strict protein diet.
Once recovered, Howell made yet another return to television, starring in several successful series, including "ER" (NBC) in 2005, and with old buddy Keifer Sutherland, on "24" (Fox) as recurring character, Barry Landes. Howell also appeared in two mini-television epics, "H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds" (Sci-Fi Channel, 2005) and "The Poseidon Adventure" (NBC, 2005).
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TV series debut, at age four, "Little People"
Began rodeo riding at age six (date approximate)
Feature debut, "E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial"
First feature in a starring role, played Ponyboy Curtis in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Outsiders"
Scored first hit in lead role, "Soul Man"
First TV-movie, "Into the Homeland"
Starred opposite Ann-Margret in "A Tiger's Tale"
Had featured role in "Gettsyburg"
Played leading role opposite Juliette Lewis in "That Night"
Made directorial debut, "Hourglass"; also co-scripted; released direct-to-video
Played lead in short-lived TV series "Kindred: The Embraced" (Fox)
Directed second feature, "Pure Danger"; also starred; released direct-to-video
Starred in HBO movie "The Big Fall"
Headlined cast of the syndicated series "Peter Benchley's Amazon"
Produced the made for television movie "Hope Ranch" (Animal Planet) which he co-wrote with his father Chris Howell
Portrayed Sgt. Thomas Chamberlain in the historical epic, "Gods and Generals"
Cast in the NBC remake of "The Poseidon Adventure"
Had a recurring role as Barry Landes, a therapist and friend to Kim Bauer (Elisha Cuthbert), on the FOX drama "24"
Portrayed successful freestyle poet, David Settles in "Fighting Words"