Rob Lowe Looks Back on The Moment He Thought His Career Was Over (Exclusive)

 Rob Lowe. Season Three of 9-1-1: LONE STAR

In a wide-ranging interview with ET, the 58-year-old star reflects on how putting his family first has paid off in the long run.

Rob Lowe has come a long way. The 58-year-old actor rocketed to fame in 1983's The Outsiders and has since enjoyed an enviable career by any standards, but Lowe admits that even he worried that his career might be over at one point in the '90s.

"One day I woke up and go, 'I haven't worked in two years,'" Lowe tells ET's Matt Cohen in a new interview, recalling the early days of raising his family with wife Sheryl Burkoff. The couple welcomed their first son, Matthew, in 1993, and their second, John, in 1995. "In fairness, I'd kind of taken my foot off the accelerator a little bit." 

With a slew of big screen projects already under his belt -- including St. Elmo's Fire and Wayne's World -- it was a starring role on The West Wing in 1999 that marked a new beginning for Lowe, kicking off a run that would see him on a TV show (and sometimes more than one) every year since. The streak is still going strong, with Lowe currently starring on Fox's 9-1-1: Lone Star and gearing up to release Unstable -- a collaborative project with his son John -- for Netflix early next year. 

"I play a larger-than-life, unstable tech genius and the only person who can really reach him and talk to [him] is his semi-estranged son," Lowe explains, joking, "So, it's all of the elements we have in our own life. I’m kind of unstable, and the only person who can reach me is my son. People are gonna like it, I think." 

In real life, Lowe is hardly estranged from his own children. The Virginia-born star says that prioritizing his family has always been the most important key to lasting happiness. 

"It's the kind of thing when they were young, I had the good fortune of being there," he says. "Some of the times I had to make choices to do it, obviously, but I prioritized that relationship and now that they're older and out in the world, they are still in our lives in a really, really, really consistent big way because that's the way it's always been."

He adds, "You can't have it both ways. You can't kind of be there, not be there, and expect to have that relationship for your whole life. Sheryl and I made that a thing, and it has paid off." 

The "Lowe boys," as he dubs them on social media, and their commitment to fitness has also clearly paid off. 

"I've been working with Atkins for four years, so being a part of that low carb, high protein lifestyle has been, it's just the secret weapon," he shares. "It allows me to still eat my cheeseburgers, I just don’t have the bun. You know? Developing product with them has been super fun."

Lowe can't get enough of the brand's chocolate peanut butter cups to satisfy his sweet tooth, while continuing to prioritize his physical fitness through exercise. 

"I'm a physical person," he says. "I don't have to force myself to the gym, I'm really lucky that way, but it all kind of comes together like anything. Like the relationship with my kids, you get what you put into it. You really do." 

The proof is in the throwbacks. Lowe looks like he's hardly aged since his early roles, though he's undeniably spooked by the upcoming 40th anniversary of The Outsiders

"I want to kill myself," he cracks of the milestone. 

"40 years of The Outsiders, wow, it feels like yesterday," he says. "Whenever I see any of my fellow Outsiders cast mates, it's like running into your fraternity if you were in a frat or if you were in a sorority, those are my college friends. That was the year I would have been going to college. It was the first time away from home, my first dorm experience was basically sharing a floor with [Tom] Cruise, [Patrick] Swayze, [Matt] Dillon and [Ralph] Macchio."

He adds, "You know I have great memories about that one."

Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Meanwhile, 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of Wayne's World and the 20th anniversary of Austin Powers in Goldmember

"I love that I'm still so close to Mike Myers," he comments, recalling the time he first met and hit it off with the comic on the set of Saturday Night Live. "But never in a million years thinking it would lead to Wayne's World and then to Austin Powers. You just never know where life is gonna take you." 

"I remember I was getting married and we kept it a secret, we kept it out of the media," he continues. "We were able to have a nice, sweet low-key wedding and Lorne Michaels called me to say I had to go to a preproduction meeting of Wayne's World and he says, 'You need to be there. The studio needs to talk to you.' And I said, 'Lorne, I'm getting married in 20 minutes' and he said, 'Well, maybe you can come by for dessert.' That was my, I'll never forget that."

To that end, Lowe has some inspiring words of wisdom to emerging artists as they navigate a career in show business. 

"If you want to do it a long time, be prepared to be brave and say 'Yes' to things that maybe other people in your life are going to be worried about," he declares. "I mean, I had people in my life telling me not to host Saturday Night Live. I know today it seems like everybody does it, but there was a time when people were like, 'I don't know. They could make fun [of you].'"

He also reiterates the importance of staying tenacious, even when things seem like they're on a downswing. 

"Know that there are going to be ups and downs and talent will prevail," he adds. "It really does. If you've got it, then you can survive the down periods of your career. Every career, it doesn't matter, it'll cycle around and keep cycling around and just keep cycling around and you just got to have your staying power." 

But the most important thing, he concludes, is the life you lead off-screen. 

"Build a life outside of show business. It's super important," he concludes. "[It] makes you a better actor, makes you a happier person."