Figure skating champion dies, possible drug overdose

January 11, 2008 11:02:14 AM PST
U.S figure skating champion Christopher Bowman pleased fans and fellow skaters with his flair on the ice. But he was also known for his off-the-ice struggles with drugs and alcohol and other personal problems. Now the 40-year-old former skating champ known as "Bowman the Showman" has been found dead at a budget hotel in the San Fernando Valley, and authorities say a drug overdose could be to blame.

Bowman was pronounced dead Thursday at 12:06 p.m., said Coroner's Lt. Joe Bale, who confirmed the death was being investigated as a possible drug overdose, but wasn't immediately able to provide more details. An autopsy was planned for this weekend, he said.

Bowman's body was found by a friend Thursday morning at a Budget Inn in the North Hills area, police Sgt. Francisca Wheeling said. A desk clerk who answered the phone at the hotel late Thursday declined comment.

"He just passed away in his sleep," Bowman's mother, Joyce, told the Detroit Free Press. "His friend told me that he was fine. He just went to bed and didn't wake up."

The friend who found Bowman told police the former skating champion might have been drinking the night before his death, Wheeling said.

Bowman, a former child actor, was one of figure skating's bigger personalities in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Immensely talented, with a gift for performance that few others could match, he won the U.S. men's figure skating titles in 1989 and 1992, and was runner-up in 1987 and 1991.

He also won a silver medal at the 1989 world championships, and a bronze the next year. He skated in the 1988 and 1992 Winter Olympics, finishing seventh in 1988 and fourth in 1992.

"If I had to pick the three most talented skaters of all time, I would pick Christopher as one," Brian Boitano, the 1988 Olympic champion, told the Chicago Tribune. "He had natural charisma, natural athleticism, he could turn on a crowd in a matter of seconds and he always seemed so relaxed about it."

But as talented as he was on the ice, Bowman could be just as big a challenge off it. He bounced from coach to coach long before it became fashionable - he once won Skate America when he was in-between coaches - and freely admitted that practice was something that just didn't interest him much.

"Each and every competition that I train for, prepare for, is always a personal challenge for me because, as we all know, the training and discipline between each event is very difficult for me," Bowman said in 1992.

He battled drug problems, and underwent treatment at least twice - once before the 1988 Olympics and then again after the Albertville Games in 1992.

Canadian skater Toller Cranston, who coached Bowman, described the American skater's debauched behavior during the period they shared Cranston's Toronto home in the 1997 book, "Zero Tollerance." Drug dealers and prostitutes rang Cranston's doorbell at all hours in search of Bowman, Cranston wrote.

Bowman's run-ins with the law included a no contest plea in November 2004 to two misdemeanors involving having a gun while drunk in Rochester Hills, Mich.

In 1993, while skating with the Ice Capades, he was beaten at a hotel in a seedy neighborhood in Pittsburgh, according to a police report.

Richard Callaghan, coach of Bowman's longtime rival, Todd Eldredge, said he was saddened to learn of Bowman's death.

"When Todd told me, I said, 'What a shame,"' Callaghan told the Free Press. "Christopher was such a nice person. Even though he was troubled, he was very genuine and friendly.

"There was a great rivalry between Christopher and Todd because they were so opposite. Christopher was always on; he was the star when it came to doing any competitions. Most of us didn't know how he did it, but he did."

Born in Hollywood, on March 30, 1967, Bowman had a part in the TV series "Little House on the Prairie" for one season and appeared in dozens of commercials. He got into coaching after his skating career was finished, and the Free Press said he had lived in the Detroit area from 1995 until last February.

Recently, Bowman had returned to acting. He had a role as an assistant coach in the upcoming Brian De Palma-directed movie "Down and Distance" starring Gary Busey.

Bowman had a daughter with his former wife, Annette Bowman, according to the Free Press.


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