By Samantha Miller Dan Jewel
April 19, 1999 12:00 PM

The year: 1985. The place: L.A.’s Hard Rock Cafe. Hot young actors-of-the-moment Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe and Judd Nelson are holding court at a center table, swigging Coronas and flirting with a crowd of groupies. David Blum, a writer tagging along, comes up with a dead-on name for the high-living hunks and their celebrated circle: the Brat Rack.

Thus anointed on a June 1985 New York magazine cover, the Brats were less than grateful. “Emilio called me up and said, ‘You’ve ruined my life,'” recalls Blum. Indeed, the label stuck like burst bubblegum to eight teen-idol stars prominent in mid-’80s hits such as The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire: Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall, plus Estevez, Lowe and Nelson.

To be sure, in its heyday, the Brat cave was the place to be. “We went to each other’s birthday parties, premieres, everywhere,” says actress Melissa Gilbert, then Lowe’s steady, of the group’s core members. Says film director Jay Roach: “They seemed charmed in the way the Rat Pack seemed charmed.”

The spell didn’t last long. Succumbing to the standard youth-fame pitfalls and tripping in transit to adult roles, most Packers soon found themselves as passé as parachute pants—and they found their fast friendships eroding. Only now, a decade and a half after the ’80s youth quake, are some older-but-wiser Brats finding paths out of Hollywood purgatory. Here’s where they are now.

The sole Brat superstar left bad habits, and a few Pack pals, behind

Few on the St. Elmo’s Fire set predicted that Demi Moore would ascend to Hollywood’s elite. In fact, some doubted the motorcycle-riding starlet would even make it through the shoot. Before filming began, director Joel Schumacher threatened to boot her unless she kicked her drug-and-alcohol problem. “I didn’t want to do what they had done with John Belushi,” he told PEOPLE in 1997, “which was just give her the money to kill herself.” Moore checked into rehab and, Schumacher added, has “been sober ever since.”

That determination surely helped Moore, now 36, break out of the Pack. For three years she and Emilio Estevez were an item and were even betrothed for a time. “They were very cute and in love,” recalls St. Elmo’s producer Lauren Shuler Donner. But Moore left the gang in the dust when she married Bruce Willis, then 32, in 1987 and shot to stardom in Ghost. She also burned a few bridges. Onetime fast friend Ally Sheedy, a bridesmaid at Moore’s wedding, told the New York Post last year that her “wake-up call” came when Willis rented an entire amusement park for Moore’s birthday in 1991. “I just didn’t fit into her world anymore,” Sheedy said.

Then again, today, neither does Willis. The power couple—parents to Rumer, 10, Scout, 7, and Tallulah, 5—declared a separation last June, though they have yet to file for divorce. Since then, they have been spotted with their brood in France and New York City while Moore shot the drama Passion of Mind, due this fall. Moore could use a hit (“She has not proved to be worth $12.5 million,” declares a top casting director), but few doubt she can rebound. Says Donner: “She’s larger than life.”


Wild-child ways behind him, the youngest Brat lets his geek flag fly

Only 16 during filming of The Breakfast Club, Hall didn’t pal around much with its twentysomething principals (though he did date the two-months-older Molly Ringwald). Still, precocious partying managed to knock the ’80s nerd-of-choice off Hollywood’s honor roll. By age 17, “I was drinking vodka by the quart every day,” Anthony Michael Hall, who turns 31 on April 14, told PEOPLE in 1992. “I got in fights and punched people in the face.”

The Boston-born Hall’s hilariously natural performances in 1984’s Sixteen Candles and in ’85’s Club unleashed a flood of acting offers. (Director Stanley Kubrick, who pursued Hall for the lead in 1987’s Full Metal Jacket, reportedly called his debut the most promising since Jimmy Stewart’s.) But his booze-fueled ego sidetracked his career after a year on Saturday Night Live. “A lot of performers get messed up because they think they don’t deserve their success, but I was the opposite,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1988.

Sober (and beefier) by 1992, the single L.A. resident tiptoed back. “I’ve had to hustle and take things you don’t necessarily want to be in,” he told ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY in 1996.

His latest chance lies in portraying yet another geek: Microsoft mogul Bill Gates in the June TNT movie Pirates of Silicon Valley. “He had naked ambition—he announced, ‘I want this part,'” says director Martyn Burke. Hall “has a sense of where he wants to go now,” Burke says. “He wants to redeem himself in his own eyes.” And in ours.


A loner takes the stage

Andrew McCarthy, 36, wants to set the record straight: He was never a Brat. “The media made up this sort of tribe,” he declares, waiting to go onstage with Ellen Burstyn in a Hartford, Conn., production of Long Day’s Journey into Night. “I don’t think I’ve seen any of these people since we finished St. Elmo’s Fire. And,” he adds, “I’ve never met Anthony Michael Hall.”

Still, the Brat Pack tag has stuck to the soulful heartthrob of Pretty in Pink and St. Elmo’s, who went to an open casting call as an 18-year-old New York University theater major and wound up as Jacqueline Bisset’s much-younger lover in 1983’s Class. On the St. Elmo’s set, McCarthy remained somewhat aloof from his wilder costars, spending his time listening to Bruce Springsteen on his Walkman, says co-screenwriter Carl Kurlander: “It was not like, hey, we’re having a party here.” McCarthy, who slams the Brat Pack label as “pejorative,” says he tried to ignore it. “Only in hindsight was I aware that it was a big deal,” he muses.

McCarthy’s career waned with the Brat craze. His last hit was the sophomoric 1989 comedy Weekend at Bernie’s, of which some critics said he was upstaged by a corpse. Since then, the never-married New York resident, still slim thanks to daily swims, has snared small roles in higher-IQ fare (1996’s Mulholland Falls) and spent time onstage. “It’s one of the great American plays,” he raves of the just-ended Long Day’s Journey. “He’s not hung up at all about being a film celebrity from the ’80s,” notes Jeff Provost, the play’s marketing director. “He just wants to do good work.”


She beat drugs and reaped praise for an indie film

“It’s been a magical, magical year,” Sheedy, 36, gushed to PEOPLE at January’s Sundance Film Festival. And how. Until recently, the Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s spitfire had beaten back post-Pack burnout to become a happy wife and mother, but her acting prospects remained so dim that her own agent dumped her. Then her sizzling turn as a lesbian, heroin-snorting photographer in last June’s independent film High Art wowed critics—and turned Sheedy into a comeback kid. “That movie,” she said, “has really changed my whole life.”

The Brat Pack label was also life-changing. To Sheedy, it not only torpedoed her career (“It immediately started this terrible association with us, that we were these kids who had too much, too fast,” she told Interview last August), it also shattered her friendships. The most painful split was with close pal Demi Moore (see page 116). Moore’s sex-symbol status disturbed Sheedy, who had struggled with bulimia and rejected advisers’ suggestions to get breast implants. Still, in 1989 it was Moore who led an intervention for Sheedy. Ally had spiraled into an addiction to the sleeping pill Halcion, begun during a fling with Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora. Returning from rehab to her native New York City, Sheedy wed actor David Lansbury (Angela’s nephew) in 1992. While raising daughter Rebecca, now 5, she made do with stage and TV-movie roles. Before High Art, “there was a preconception about what I could or couldn’t do,” said Sheedy, who will appear in the fall film Sugar Town and in Our Guys, an upcoming ABC TV movie. “I feel like I’m just beginning to come into my own as an actress.”

Joel Schumacher, who directed St. Elmo’s, never had any doubts. “You could not meet Ally and not fall in love with her,” he told The Washington Post last year. “She was the girl most likely to succeed.”


Nearly ruined by a naughty video, he cleaned up his act

Before Leo, there was Lowe.

“We were mobbed!” recalls St. Elmo’s Fire co-screenwriter Carl Kurlander of a 1984 car drive with Rob Lowe at the University of Maryland, where the film was being shot. “Everywhere Rob Lowe went, women wanted him.”

For a time, the impossibly pretty Ohio-raised actor, now 35, wanted them too. A fixture on the L.A. party scene, Lowe drank heavily—often with Brat buddies Emilio Estevez and Judd Nelson—and dated a host of celebs, from actresses Melissa Gilbert (“I was a Brat Pack wife,” she jokes) and Nastassja Kinski to Princess Stephanie and Fawn Hall. “He was an eligible bachelor and he took advantage of his eligibility,” says a longtime pal. “Women would just throw themselves at him.”

But throwing himself in front of a video camera nearly sank Lowe’s career. After the infamous 1988 tape of his sexual encounter with a 16-year-old girl became public, a chastened Lowe (“There’s no way you can know how embarrassing it was,” he told PEOPLE in 1990) cleaned up his act. He quit drinking and in ’91 married Estevez’s ex-girlfriend, makeup artist Sheryl Berkoff, now 37.

As Lowe discovered the joys of fatherhood—he lives quietly in Santa Barbara with Sheryl and their sons Matthew, 5, and John Owen, 3—Hollywood began to rediscover him, casting him in supporting roles in 1992’s Wayne’s World and ’97’s Contact. He also stars in May’s NBC movie Atomic Train and appears in June’s Austin Powers II: The Spy Who Shagged Me. But if he never Cruises at Tom’s altitude, as many once predicted, he no longer seems to mind. “My focus now is my family,” Lowe told Montreal’s Gazette in February. A pal puts it this way: “To him, the Brat Pack is ancient history.”


The bad boy Suddenly makes good at last

In The Breakfast Club, Nelson was a rule-smashing rebel; offscreen, he rode a Harley, partied hard and had a fling with Shannen Doherty. “The character Judd played in The Breakfast Club was pretty close to his real life at the time,” says longtime pal Scott Casterline, a Dallas sports agent. “Who doesn’t have a good time when they’re young?”

Now 39, the former bad boy is taking a walk on the mild side. After a decade struggling in mostly obscure movies, three years ago Nelson turned up as Jack, Brooke Shields‘s beleaguered but good-hearted boss and beau on the NBC sitcom Suddenly Susan. The small screen is no comedown, says Casterline; Nelson is “maturing and doing something he loves.”

Some feel the Portland, Maine, native was born for comedy. “He always had a wicked sense of humor,” recalls St. Elmo’s co-screenwriter Carl Kurlander, who says the Haverford College-schooled Nelson (who read Billy Budd on-set) would “wink underneath” his posturing—not a bad defense against the critics’ barbs that awaited him in the ’90s. (USA Today tagged him Hollywood’s “smirkiest actor.”) Still, Nelson notched some solid credits. Producer Tracey E. Edmonds says she cast him as a teacher in next fall’s Light It Up because his work in films such as 1991’s New Jack City made him a “cool, hip actor all races could relate to.”

The still-single L.A. resident—who has been dating a Dallas model, says Casterline—now gets his kicks at Lakers and Raiders games. “I’ve learned low-key is the way to go,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times in February. “I just avoid bars and nightclubs and those other sorts of places where you can run into trouble.” Says his father, Leonard, a lawyer: “He’s come a long way as an actor—and as a human being.”


The leader of the Pack, now a divorced dad, has had a Mighty mixed career

While his ’80s pals partied late into the night, Emilio Estevez, now 36, was usually the first Brat to Pack it in. “He used to say”—presumably with a straight face—” ‘My body is a temple,'” recalls actress Melissa Gilbert, Rob Lowe’s girlfriend at the time. “He would be the first to stop [drinking]. He seemed to have the best head on his shoulders of all of us.”

Dubbed “unofficial president of the Brat Pack” by writer David Blum, Estevez (who kept father Martin Sheen’s original last name) also seemed the most versatile. During breaks on the St. Elmo’s Fire set, the actor scribbled screenplays “that were remarkably proficient for a 22-year-old kid,” says St. Elmo’s co-screenwriter Carl Kurlander.

Estevez also delivered solid performances in The Outsiders (1983), Repo Man (’84) and Young Guns (’88). In the ’90s, however, his highest-profile role has been the hockey coach in the lightweight Mighty Ducks trilogy. His directing forays—1986’s Wisdom, 1990’s Men at Work (with brother Charlie Sheen, 33) and ’96’s The War at Home—all flopped.

His love life has been equally inconsistent. With model Carey Salley, his mid-’80s girlfriend, he fathered Taylor, 14, and Paloma, 13 (both live with Salley). When that relationship ended, he began romancing St. Elmo’s costar Demi Moore, to whom he later got engaged (“I was deeply in love with her,” he told PEOPLE in ’96). He married singer Paula Abdul in ’92; they divorced in ’94 when he balked at having more children.

Despite his romantic escapades, Estevez, who lives in a four-bedroom Malibu house and costars in the upcoming thriller Killer’s Head, maintains his nice-guy rep. “I’m kind of known as the good guy,” he told the Denver Rocky Mountain News last year, “dependable in my work and as a father. And those things are true.”


After fleeing the country, she’s back—and busy again

With her flaming carrot top and a 1986 TIME cover proclaiming her the “model modern teen,” Molly Ringwald stood out from the Pack. But adult fame proved elusive, and the quirky star of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink moved to France in 1991. Her 1996 return in the sitcom Townies didn’t last a season. “Molly was the quintessential teen actress,” says writer David Blum, “and when people remember you as this perfect teenager, any sign of aging is hard to take.”

Still, Sacramento-born Ringwald, 31, looks back on the Brat Pack era “very fondly,” she told ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY in 1996. Five years younger than most of the other Packers, she only dabbled in their social scene, though she did step out with Anthony Michael Hall. (“He was the only person I knew who was my age,” she told Movieline in 1995.) Later she dated rock scion Dweezil Zappa and Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz.

But after flops such as 1990’s Betsy’s Wedding and squabbles with her mentor, director John Hughes, Ringwald headed to Paris. “I didn’t know who I was yet,” she told USA Weekend in 1996. “I needed to figure it out.” Five years later, she returned with several French film credits and a Parisian steady, writer Valery Lameignère. They got engaged a year ago but have yet to set a wedding date—or establish a home base. Ringwald now bounces between L.A., New York City and her amour’s Paris pad.

Since Townies, Ringwald has wrapped five movies (including this summer’s Killing Mrs. Tingle) and starred in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play How I Learned to Drive. After her debut, a beaming, relieved Ringwald “looked as if she’d just swum the English Channel,” says Drive coproducer Douglas Aibel. “She’s in top form as an actress,” he says. “And she’s looking for good work to do.”

Samantha Miller and Dan Jewel

Ken Baker, Kelly Carter, Julie Jordan, Paula Yoo and Irene Zutell in Los Angeles; Sue Miller in New York City; Marianne Stochmal in Hartford; and Chris Coats in Dallas