January 28, 2008 12:00 PM

Last March at an ice rink in Panorama City, Calif., former Olympic competitor Christopher Bowman taught novices while wearing rental skates. “He said his own skates had been stolen,” recalls a fellow instructor. Bowman’s weight had soared to 260 lbs. Occasionally he arrived disheveled and unkempt. He was no longer the lithe, handsome, 6-ft. athlete who mesmerized fans as “Bowman the Showman” in the early 1990s. Still, the instructor said, “the kids enjoyed the class, and they liked Chris.”

On Jan. 10 the two-time U.S. men’s champion and Ice Capades star was found dead at age 40 at the Budget Inn in North Hills, Calif. “He had been drinking heavily,” says county coroner Lt. Fred Corral. “He had taken Vicodin the night before and he had a history of cocaine abuse.” The end came after years of struggles with drugs and alcohol, stints in rehab, a painful divorce (he married skater Annette Jasinkiewicz; they had a daughter, Bianca, now 10) and minor scrapes with the law. And yet Bowman, a former child actor, continued to believe he could turn his life around. “He talked about acting, about publishing his book,” says skater John Baldwin, a friend. Indeed, Bowman had completed a role in an independent film, Down and Distance, set for release this year.

On the ice, in his prime, “he was a show-stopper,” remembers skating champ Scott Hamilton. But his trouble mastering the higher difficulty jumps likely cost him an Olympic medal. (He placed fourth in the ’92 Olympics.) “Chris had a bad-boy quality like the Will Ferrell character in Blades of Glory; the same shameless flaunting,” adds Hamilton. “But Chris wasn’t unhappy, egotistical or angry. He never uttered a bad word about anyone.” Says his mother, Joyce Bowman: “He thought he was put on this earth to have a good time.”

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