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From the Depths

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A simple fishing spear suited him just fine as the blond, bronzed castaway who generated tropical heat with Brooke Shields in the 1980 teen romance The Blue Lagoon. But these days Christopher Atkins prefers more sophisticated equipment for landing the big ones—namely, the Christopher Atkins Strike Jacket E.F.L. (Extreme Fishing Lure), a rubbery slipcovering for traditional baits that the actor and lifelong angler developed with the help of special-effects expert Mark Viniello in 1997. “I did this for me,” Atkins, 39, says of the E.F.L., which he’s marketing through infomercials. “If I fish with something that looks, feels and swims like a real minnow, I’m going to catch more fish.”

Catching fish—and breaks—has never been a problem for Atkins, who at 18 beat out 4,000 hopefuls angling to share screen time with Brooke Shields, then all of 14 years old. “He was a sailing instructor when I found him,” recalls Lagoon director Randal Kleiser. “He had never acted before.”

In fact, growing up in Rye, N.Y., “all I ever wanted to do was play baseball,” notes Atkins, the oldest child of middle school science teacher Bitsy Nebauer, 63, and her ex-husband Donald Bomann, 67, who owns a real estate agency.(When he began acting, Atkins dropped his father’s surname in favor of his own middle name.)

But while in high school, Atkins saw his budding baseball career benched by a degenerative cartilage condition called chondromalacia, which resulted in several knee surgeries. So after graduation he put the tanned physique he would later flaunt in his Lagoon loincloth to work as a model, posing for Seventeen and Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. “Those were some happy days,” Atkins says.

Even happier days awaited him on Turtle Island in Fiji, where Atkins and Shields spent three months filming. “We hung out and had a good time together,” says Atkins, but his costar, he points out, “was real young, so it wasn’t much of a romance.”

In fact, despite a four-year-long relationship with actress Cynthia Gibb, Atkins didn’t find true love until 1984, when he was in Australia filming a show for the Playboy channel following a yearlong stint on Dallas. Also on the show was Australian model and onetime Playboy centerfold Lynne Barron, and the two quickly hit it off.

Married six months later, the couple settled in L.A. but ran into trouble when Atkins learned that his former manager Mick Schneider had embezzled up to $500,000 from his celebrity clients, leaving the actor virtually broke. Overwhelmed, he suffered an alcohol-related breakdown in 1986. “There is nothing worse than having your whole life pulled out from under you,” says Atkins, who checked himself into rehab and has been sober for 14 years. “He managed to pick himself up and turn it around,” says Lynne, 39. “We’re a great family unit. We’ve really worked hard at it.”

In large part, the couple, parents of Grant, 14, and Brittney, 13, credit laughter with keeping them together. One source: the Blue Lagoon video. “We all laugh about him getting hit in the head with a coconut,” says Lynne. “That’s my favorite scene.”

It’s also a favorite with the kids, who have both followed in their father’s footsteps. Grant is an avid baseball player, and Brittney is an actress who has appeared in three children’s films for British television, one of them written by Atkins.

In addition to getting his feet wet as a writer, Atkins continues to act, primarily in small films and TV shows. Last year he appeared on Shields’s now-defunct sitcom Suddenly Susan, giving the erstwhile costars a chance to trade stories about their island days. “There’s always the ribbing about running around naked and being barefoot all the time,” says Atkins. “We grew up a bit together on that island, so I got a big kick out of it.”

Michelle Tauber

Lyndon Stambler in Los Angeles