By Samantha Miller
May 24, 1999 12:00 PM

Rick Springfield, teen idol turned soap star turned platinum-selling rocker, heads home from his morning jaunt to Starbucks. Seven blocks and nine speed bumps later, Springfield, 49, pulls up to the cheery, hacienda-style Malibu home he moved into three years ago with wife Barbara and their sons Liam, now 13, and Joshua, 10. “When we first came to look at the house, there were dogs lying in the middle of the street, dads mowing the lawn,” he says. “We knew this was for us.”

Trust those speed bumps to remind Springfield of the perils of life in the fast lane. After a brief spin in the spotlight as a ’70s teen sensation, the Aussie-born singer roared back in the early ’80s as a double-threat sex symbol. On daytime’s top-ranked General Hospital, he played heartthrob Dr. Noah Drake; off-screen, his 1981 single “Jessie’s Girl” hit No. 1. But by mid-decade, exhaustion and an ill-conceived stab at movie stardom sent Springfield skidding into obscurity—and into a years-long battle with clinical depression. “The candle burned down at both ends,” he says.

Now, Springfield is finding his way back. He has acted in TV movies, on the late-night syndicated drama High Tide and, most recently, in two episodes of NBC’s Suddenly Susan. (He played the object of Brooke Shields‘s affections.) “It’s been a nice chemistry,” says Shields, admitting that she was a high school fan. Springfield also just released Karma, his first new album in a decade, to generally positive reviews (Rolling Stone’s David Wild praised Springfield’s power pop as “sounding in remarkably good form”) and has begun playing concerts around the country. “There aren’t many training bras in the audience anymore,” he says. Still, he reports, son Liam “calls me a ‘chick magnet.’ ”

In 1971 that magnetism attracted producer Steve Binder, who set out to turn the “incredible-looking” son of an Australian army officer—his single “Speak to the Sky” was already a hit Down Under—into a David Cassidy-style teen idol. Bolstered by teen-mag coverage, “Sky” shot up the U.S. charts. But the album itself never caught on, and by 1975, Springfield was broke and despondent. He remembers getting “a letter from a kid that asked, ‘Can we come to L.A. and see your mansion?’ I was living in this crappy Hollywood apartment. It was sad.”

A relationship with actress Linda Blair, then only 15—”We were like Romeo and Juliet,” she says now—lifted his spirits. After they split in 1976, Springfield snared bit parts in TV shows, including Battlestar Galactica. Suddenly, in 1981, everything clicked: The 31-year-old joined General Hospital, released “Jessie’s Girl” and began dating recording-studio receptionist Barbara Porter, then 18. Says Springfield: “I felt, ‘It’s about freakin’ time.’ ”

But the stress of playing to arenas of frenzied fans on weekends off GH’s set took its toll. He quit the soap in 1983 to tour, charting several more hit singles. By 1985, burnout, insecurities about his new role as a father (he and Barbara had wed the previous year) and his flop as a sexy rock star in the movie Hard to Hold had plunged Springfield into “a middle-aged crisis,” he says. Then came depression so paralyzing that he rarely left his house for three years. “There’s a lot of dark stuff in my life I can’t talk about,” he says.

In 1988, bolstered by daily therapy sessions, he began taking acting classes. “The scariest thing I’ve ever done was to start going out again,” he says. “But I couldn’t become a recluse at 37.” Now, Springfield has put his fears behind him. Performing is “more fun than it’s ever been,” he says. “It’s like I’m a familiar friend.”

Samantha Miller

Champ Clark in Malibu