Emilio Estevez Makes a Comeback

The Brat Pack alum is back on screen – and in the director's chair – with Bobby

Emilio Estevez remembers the first time he walked into L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel: It was 1969, and he was a 7-year-old holding the hand of his father, actor and political activist Martin Sheen.

“This is where it all happened,” a tearful Sheen told his son as they visited the site where presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, PEOPLE reports in its new issue. “This is where the music died.”

Thirty-one years later Estevez returned to the 84-year-old grand hotel for a publicity photo shoot for his film Rated X, and while standing in that lobby, felt inspired.

“My whole childhood came back,” says Estevez, 44, of revisiting the Ambassador. “I remembered where I was when Bobby was shot (and) being there later with my father. It was like somebody unlocked the padlock to my memories.”

Estevez channeled that flashback into Bobby, the new film he wrote and directed about the Ambassador on the day of Kennedy s death. He worked on the script for five years.

“This was a passion for him, says cast member Elijah Wood, who plays a teenager trying to avoid Vietnam combat by marrying a girl he doesn t love, played by Lindsay Lohan.

But it s been a long trip back to the big time. The eldest son of Martin and Janet Sheen, Estevez rose to fame in such movies as The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo s Fire. After having two children (son Taylor, 22, and daughter Paloma, 20) with model Carrey Salley, he wed Paula Abdul in 1992. They divorced two years later.

By then, his career had stalled. “Mighty Ducks one – I probably should have stopped there,” he says. “I started to answer to a different god. I had a very expensive now-ex-wife and got caught up with bigger is better – I went broke chasing that.”

To clear his debts Estevez sold his home, autographed photos and cashed in his pension.

With Bobby he hopes those days are behind him. His personal life is also on the rebound. In September he became engaged to journalist Sonja Magdevski, 34. They plan to wed “hopefully soon,” he says

For more on this story, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.

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