Andrew McCarthy: From Brat-Packer to Backpacker


Friday, September 28, 2012

If you were alive in the 1980s, you, or someone you loved, had a crush on Andrew McCarthy. He played Blane McDonnagh, the rich kid who captures the heart of Molly Ringwald’s character in the teen drama Pretty in Pink. He went on to star in films like St. Elmo’s Fire and Weekend At Bernie’s, and had many roles on television. But when he woke up to adult life, McCarthy quietly took on a second career. He became a serious travel writer, contributing to National Geographic Traveler, The New York Times, and The Atlantic, among others.

With a name as common as Andrew McCarthy, it was easy to fly under the radar. “I didn’t hide it, but I certainly didn’t make any fuss about it,” he tells Kurt Andersen. McCarthy’s new memoir The Longest Way Home chronicles his personal struggles both as an actor and traveler. When he had trouble dealing with his early stardom, McCarthy turned to alcohol. “I withdrew and was very much lost in that fog. It took me a couple years to realize it was an issue and it took me a couple years to do something about it,” he remembers. He then walked the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage route across northern Spain. The experience was “miserable,” but revelatory: “I had this realization that fear had dominated who I was in the world.” The solution was to continue to travel solo “and I began to grow more comfortable … and came home a better version of myself.”

McCarthy was sitting in director John Hughes’ office when the article that first named the “brat pack” broke. Hughes was amused; McCarthy, mortified. Independent film was rapidly becoming a force, but he was already too popular for those parts; “Tarantino wouldn’t return my calls,” he jokes. And those old, heartthrob roles have a long afterlife. “I could land on Mars, and the headline would be Andrew ‘Pretty in Pink’ McCarthy Lands on Mars.”


 → Was there an encounter or experience in a foreign place that changed your life?
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    Music Playlist
  1. If You Leave
    Artist: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
    Album: Pretty in Pink: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
    Label: A&M
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. Love Theme from St. Elmo's Fire [Instrumental]
    Artist: David Foster
    Album: St. Elmo's Fire - Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
    Label: Atlantic Records
    Purchase: Amazon
  3. Lullaby
    Artist: El Ten Eleven
    Album: Transitions
    Label: #
    Purchase: Amazon


Andrew McCarthy

Produced by:

Julia Barton

Comments [3]

Elizabeth Baldwin from Washington, DC

This might only be poignant for me, but a few years ago, I went to Chicago for the first time. I stayed in the apartment of the only person that I knew, but he was away so I had his apartment to myself. He didn't have a TV or air conditioning, so I amused myself watching Devo videos on his computer while temperatures hit 88 degrees by 7 am.
Regardless, I have never fell so hard for a city in my entire life. Maybe it's because I moved to the city where I've lived for 15 years by accident. I came for an internship and stayed because it was easy. Maybe I fell because I have never felt instantly so comfortable in a place I never knew. Maybe I felt so comfortable because the people were so nice and welcoming and when they offered to help me carry my bag onto the bus, I didn't worry they'd run in the opposite direction with it.

Whatever the reason, when it came time to leave, I got on a bus to get to the blue line to head back to O'Hare and I burst into tears because I didn't want to leave. I thought "this is silly- feeling this way. If I am meant to move here, there will be a sign. Just then, the bus went by a sign shop and I thought "oh...hah-hah" and the bus called out the name of the upcomming bus stop; DING! ELIZABETH!

Sep. 30 2012 08:50 PM
Mike Russell

My poignant travel story, which is poignant precisely because it's a study in missed opportunities:

"10 Things I'd Tell My Younger Self After Reading the Angst-Journal I Kept During A Eurail Vacation 20 Years Ago"

Sep. 29 2012 02:16 PM
Annie from Washington, DC

Following this piece, you requested that we share a poignant travel story. I could not find the call-to-action button, so I figured I would leave it in the comments.

At 22, when I graduated from college, the plan was to spend 3 months in Ireland working in my field of study, and then return to New York to start my career (as everyone I knew planned to do and my parents had done).

I went to Europe a month early to try my hand at solo travel. I grew up fortunate enough to travel abroad with my family (it is core family "value"), but I had never been confident to take off on my own.

My first night, when I sat down on the steps of the hostel in London with a beer and a cigarette, I had never felt happier. I was not accountable to anyone. My degree was complete, my family and friends were thousands of miles away - it was just me and the strangers telling me about their last stop.

During that month, I made strict travel plans, and ritualistically abandoned them; sometimes to follow a recommendation of someone I met in a cafe, sometimes because the name of a town I liked the sound of on the destination board at the train station.

On my 23rd birthday, I was on a computer in Bled, Slovenia looking at a website called I found a job as a hiking and climbing guide in Ireland - and applied on a whim. Within hours, I was hired. I panicked! Not knowing what I had just done, I called my parents. Expecting to be told to be responsible and follow my career, I was shocked when these corporate mavens told me to follow my gut and go take the outdoor job.

By my 25th birthday, I had lived and worked in 4 countries. All jobs were a result of friendships I made on the road those 2 years.

In that one month I left behind what I thought I was supposed to do and what I culturally understood as "right", and became an adventurer.

[PS. I am now 33 and have a career but was able to take off on one other an extended 2 year adventure. It all started with an offer I couldn't pass up - a chance to do the Mongol Rally. And then I just didn't come home. :)]

Sep. 28 2012 04:31 PM

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