He was the definition of man candy in the early ’80s – a fact that the autographed nude photo collection in the (censored) store section of his official web site is happy to remind you of. Today, Christopher Atkins – best known for baring all (or nearly all) in The Blue Lagoon, TV’s Dallas, the cult favorite The Pirate Movie, and that rare male foray into the stripper genre, A Night in Heaven – is hoping for a comeback on VH1’s newest celebreality show, Confessions of a Teen Idol (premieres Jan. 4). PopWatch caught up with Atkins, now a doting father of two with a career building luxury pools, as he was heading to the park to play ball with his son, Grant, a standout shortstop and pitcher at UNC Charlotte. (Daughter Brittney is in film school.) We talked about wild nights at Studio 54, the role he lost that would’ve changed his career, how he knows for a fact that I’m not the only fan of The Pirate Movie, why he agreed to do Confessions (and why his kids will be embarrassed), and what’s next.
PopWatch: How did Confessions of a Teen Idol come to you?
Christopher Atkins: Well… The true story of it is, the pilot supposedly came about because of me. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say that or not. A friend of mine asked me to come over and install a television wall hanging thing, the tray the flatscreen goes on, so I went over there and I was helping her out. She was dating someone who ended up being one of the exec producers on the show, and she said to him, “You won’t believe who’s hanging a TV for me right now.” He just thought Wow, that’s kinda a cool idea. I wonder what these guys are all up to these days, and if it might make a fun show. So they were sorta chasing me down for a year to be in the show. They could never tell me what the show was about.
Did they tell you any of the circumstances they’d be putting you guys in? [They attend group therapy sessions with a “celebrity psychology expert” among other things.]
No, they really didn’t. They kinda just asked, “What are the things that you wouldn’t do?” Which is pretty much everything that they had us do. [Laughs]
In the premiere, Baywatch’s David Chokachi is already threatening to leave the show. Did you ever reach that point?
Oh, yeah…. But at the same time, that’s what made the show different. There were some things that were in-your-face and tough to swallow. That can be really hurtful or incredibly magically beautiful. I had both of them happen to me on the show. There were some things that you didn’t know about the other guys: Billy shared a really interesting time in his past that none of us knew, where he was sleepin’ in a car and all the rest of the stuff, and what motivated and drove him. I think it will be very revealing. It looks into the lives of some guyswho, in their day, had tremendous fame. There wasn’t a place on theplanet that I could go that I wasn’t mobbed at one point in time in mylife. It’s cool to be able to reveal that to people – thegood, the bad, and the ugly. It’s not all good.
Is there a moment you’re most nervous about seeing?
It’s called all eight episodes…. My daughter is already planning a big party at the house [for the premiere]. My son was all excited about it, I think, until he saw me in my old spandex pants trying to play a guitar on a car in the trailer. He was like, “What the hell, dad?” I said, “Dude, that’s an ’80s gold spandex pant, and I hope your whole college baseball team sees it, because you’re gonna never live that one down. ‘That’s your dad?’ ‘Yep, that’s my dad.’”
Why are you in an ’80s gold spandex pant?
I had to be an ’80s rocker. [Laughs] When they showed us the outfits that we had to put on, I thought What would embarrass my kids the most? And that’s what I went for. That’s what I live for.
addCredit(“Everett Collection; VH1”)
Watch a trailer for Confessions of a Teen Idol
Speaking of the ’80s, we had readers submit questions for you,and I was surprised that the movie mentioned most was your 1982musical, The Pirate Movie. I’ve always wondered if other people loved it as much as my sister and I.
I’ll tell you a very interesting story about that movie. That moviedidn’t do anything at the box office, which was too bad. It had itstroubles when we shot it. They had to change directors and all kinds ofstuff. And then one day, that I was in Canton, Ohio and doing aplay with a university out there – they have celebs come out and workwith their theater department – and the kids said, “Here, we have asurprise for you.” They sat me on a couch in one of their houses orwherever, and like 15 of ‘em came flying out from around a corner andperformed the freakin’ Pirate Movie in front of me. I mean, word-for-word, the dances exactly. I was catching flies. My jaw was down to my knees. Oh.My.God. [Laughs]From that time on, it seemed like there’s a huge generation that lovedthat movie. I’m sitting here thinkin’ to myself, Paramount probablyowes me a bunch of money from that, ‘cause I had a percentage in thatfilm… You don’t know how many people loved that movie. It absolutelyshocked me because it came and went. As a cult film, it’s huge. There’sfan sites everywhere. As a matter of fact, one of the fan sites isnow my official web site. I said, “God, I love the site. You’re awesome. Do you want to do my official site?” So this woman and I became friends.
This reader question is a great one: Why didn’t you get to do a commentary track for The Pirate Movie DVD? Were you ever approached? What would you have said?
No, I wasn’t approached. I wish we [he and costar Kristy McNichol]were. I probably would’ve talked all about the singing and dancing.It’s one of my big jokes today that I have a gold album because of thatmovie and I can’t sing in the shower. Everybody sounds good in theshower but me, that’s how bad of a singer I am. The dancing: I’m agreat athlete, but I can’t dance. I’m such a bad dancer, they alwaysput me in the back. [Laughs] It was probably my most fun movie to make, after The Blue Lagoon.It was six months in Australia. I had fencing lessons, we did ropecourses so we could all of this stuff on the boat and make it all lookgood and real. The worst part about it was that the Pirate King [TedHamilton] was one of the producers, and he never went to the lessons orpracticed the choreography, so every time we’d do a fencing scene, I’dcome away with welts all over me. He kept whacking me with his sword thewhole time. [Laughs] Man, that hurts.
Watch a clip from The Pirate Movie
In the premiere of a Confessions of Teen Idol, you talk about how you spent a lot of nights at Studio 54. What are your best stories… that you’re willing to share?
[Laughs] Studio 54 was a wild and crazy place. I meteverybody. I’ve got a picture of me and Christie Brinkley from Studio54 that I cherish. Me and Lorna Luft [Grease 2’s Paulette] endedup in Snoopy’s doghouse one time. They had a whole Snoopy set there orsomethin’, and we ended up in the doghouse together, just hiding awayfrom everybody and laughing our butts off…. It was insane. There wasone time in particular, I was there with one of my best friends fromwhere I grew up, and we come out of the club at 4 in the morning orsomething ridiculous, and I couldn’t find my car. I was plastered. I’mgoing, “They stole it! They stole it!” We ran into these cops, and onerecognized me, and he goes, “Hey, hey, get it! Get in! I gotta take yousome place.” So we get into the back of this copcar, and my friend is all scared to death, and I’m all, “Woohoo! Hey,turn the lights on, man! Come on!” They hit the lights, and it turnsout they took us to an embassy, and there was a woman in one of thelittle guard shacks at the embassy and they’re yellin’, “Hey, we gotChristopher Atkins in the back of the car!” It was the funniest thing.Then they took us and found my car, dropped us off, told me I shouldn’tdrive – so that was all good. My friend turns to me and goes, “I’vebeen in the back of cop cars before, but they never drop me off.” [Laughs] That was pretty fun. New York cops are the best, man.
You also mention in the premiere that partying cost you Kevin Bacon’s role in Footloose. I never knew that.
I was back in the day, partying my butt off. They needed me to gomeet the producers, and I went in half-cocked because I was on my wayto go someplace and they called me at the last minute. I went in withit in the bag, and just absolutely blew it. That’s a true story. Itprobably would’ve changed my whole career, too. But things are meantfor a reason. I haven’t touched anything in 22 years. When I had mykids, I just wanted to be a dad. I didn’t want to party anymore, and Iwas lucky enough to stop.
Watch the trailer for 1983’s A Night in Heaven
Tell me about your life since then.
I’ve worked pretty much consistently – I’ve done over 70 films –but I never chased it. I did all those movies that you wouldn’t wantyour dog to watch, but I did ‘em to keep going. You really have tochase it, and I wanted to be a dad more than anything else in my life.At 16-years-old, I was teaching sailing in New York, and every checkthat I got, I took a dollar away and put it in the bank for somedaywhen I had kids. When all of the sudden I was 24, and I had my son, Ifound myself – and it was probably one of the downfalls of my marriage – I found myself more motivated by my son and then when my daughter came,my two kids, than anything else. I kinda focused everything on that. Ididn’t want to miss a minute. Probably because I’m a big kid, too. ButI’m here right now. I just pulled up to the park, my son’s pulling abucket of baseballs out of the back of the car, and I’m gonna go hitgrounders and help catch him. He’s a Division 1 ballplayer hoping to get drafted bythe pros this year. He’s a helluva ballplayer. He’s 23, and I’m 24, andwe’re still hanging out together. [Laughs] The other thing is, Igot really involved in building these high-end pools. The woman whostarted this company 23 years ago is my best friend out here. [Check out the web site.]She’s done Wayne Gretzky’s pool, David Foster’s pool. We just finishedJohn Goodman’s house. I really get off on it because I loveconstruction and doing stuff with my hands, and it’s so creative,building something from the ground up. We’re about to do a $9 millionhouse right now with a gigantic lagoon pool with a bridge and all kindsof stuff. It’s just spectacular. I enjoy that more than anything, andI’m gonna keep doing that.
Watch a clip of Atkins on Dallas
What do you hope comes out of Confessions of a Teen Idol?
My kids are graduating from college. I’m singleagain after 20 years of marriage, unfortunately. So now it’s time toget back into work again. I’m hoping that the show does well,and I can get some more work and startcoming back a bit. I’m actually running with a reality show myself. [He’s shopping for anetwork now.] It has to do with a good friend of mine who has a gold mineon his property in North Carolina. He’s got 300,000 gold ounces rightunder his house and his pool – all documented, all assayed by giantmining companies – that’s worth over $300 million. But he’s ahillbilly. So it’s four rednecks and an actor trying to get $300million in gold. This is absolutely hysterical. We have a terriblebeaver problem. The beavers keep eatin’ the pipes that feed the tablesthat separate the gold from the dirt. And we’re like, Goddang,beavers! A beaver problem! How do you have a beaver problem? Then, there’s a movie that I’m trying to put together financing for. It’s based a true story, sort of a Blue Lagooncoming-of-age movie, that will make you cry and make you stand up andcheer…. My thing is, I want to relive the ’80s, just this timeremember ‘em. [Laughs] My mantra – and I tell my kids this, too— is, He with the most stories wins. It has nothing to do with toys; it has to do with stories.If you have stories, you’ve had adventure. And if you’ve had adventure,you’ve lived a life. You haven’t sat down and let it go by. That’s theone thing I’m pretty proud of: I got two amazing children.
Watch the trailer for The Blue Lagoon
More on teen idols:
Adrian Zmed: PopWatch ‘Teen Idol’ Q&A
Eric Nies: PopWatch ‘Teen Idol’ Q&A
Jamie Walters: PopWatch ‘Teen Idol’ Q&A
Pillow Talk with Scott Baio
PopWatch Confessional: The fan letter you wrote when you were young
EW’s Ultimate Hotties: Decade-by-decade galleries and polls