Living in the spotlight after being pigeon-holed with an unfair label was no easy task for any actress, yet Gen-X favorite Ally Sheedy succeeded in breaking away from the pack. She first rose to fame as the mischievous teen who, along with computer nerd Matthew Broderick, almost starts WWIII in "WarGames" (1983) and as the misfit weirdo spending a day in detention in the John Hughes classic, "The Breakfast Club" (1985). Her next blockbuster vehicle was the post-college drama "St. Elmo's Fire" (1985), where she played a headstrong Gen-Xer who wants to live life to the fullest before settling into married life. All three films provided Sheedy with both instant fame and a membership in the so-called "Brat Pack," an exclusive clique of young, rich, and famous actors in the 1980s that included Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson and Rob Lowe, among many others. Apart from appearing together movies, they led lives of excess that epitomized the decade. Never comfortable with the label or lifestyle, Sheedy's career peaked in the '80s and she soon found herself mired in a dearth of second-rate movies and TV shows for much of the following decade. After many years of unforgettable roles, Sheedy came back strong with her award-winning portrayal of heroin-addict and photographer, Lucy Berliner, in the independent film "High Art" (1998). The role propelled Sheedy back into the limelight, earned her critical reviews, and eradicated any doubts about her abilities as a serious actress.
Alexandra Elizabeth Sheedy was born on June 13, 1962 in New York City and was the eldest of three children. Her father, John J. Sheedy, Jr., was an advertising executive and her mother, Charlotte, was a literary agent. With such a direct connection to the literary world, it was not surprising when at age 12, while still attending Bank Street School, Sheedy wrote the children's novel She Was Nice to Mice (1975) about a mythical encounter between Queen Elizabeth I and an inquisitive mouse named Esther Esther. Published by McGraw-Hill, the book became an instant bestseller and thrust the young novelist into the limelight. It was evident pretty early on that Sheedy had all the makings of a performer; from age six to 14, she danced with the American Ballet Theatre and spent many summers at Fire Island staging shows with her peers on back lawns and porches. Her teenage years revolved around dance, until Sheedy realized how strict her diet regimen would have to be just to be a dancer, so she shifted her focus to acting. The success of her novel brought in a flood of requests from publications such as The Village Voice for Sheedy to become a movie critic, and The New York Times who offered her a job as a children's books reviewer. She accepted an assignment from Ms. magazine to write an article about her mother and herself. It was while the 15-year-old was promoting her book on "The Mike Douglas Show" (CBS, 1961-1982) that she was spotted by an agent and signed. Now enjoying a new career path, the pretty brunette began appearing in After-School Specials, off-Broadway productions, and commercials for such clients as Burger King.
When she turned 18, Sheedy traveled to Los Angeles and studied drama at the University of Southern California. No sooner than she traded in her winter boots for flip-flops, the future Brat Packer landed minor roles in television dramas like "The Best Little Girl in the World" (ABC, 1981) starring Jennifer Jason Leigh as a girl secretly suffered from anorexia nervosa, the holiday made-for-TV movie "The Day the Loving Stopped" (USA, 1981), and "Homeroom" (ABC, 1981). In 1983, Sheedy's luck changed when she won a recurring role as a flirtatious Catholic schoolgirl who caught the attention of one of the cops on the hit drama "Hill Street Blues" (NBC, 1981-87). That same year, she made her feature film debut as Sean Penn's loyal girlfriend in "Bad Boys," a gritty look at urban Chicago street gangs, but more importantly, she co-starred in the cyber espionage thriller "WarGames" (1983) featuring Matthew Broderick as a teenage computer whiz who accidentally discovered a code to a secret military supercomputer. Sheedy played Broderick's girlfriend who helped him come up with the password to unlock the system before Russia and the U.S. most go to nuclear war. The film, directed by John Badham, was a massive summer hit and more than any project to date, put the actress on the map.
After playing mostly supporting roles, Sheedy won a career-defining role in the '80s cult classic "The Breakfast Club." Directed by John Hughes, the film focused on five teenagers who grapple with the prevailing notions of high school stereotypes. Forced to spend a day in detention, they bicker, dance, smoke pot, and gradually reveal their innermost secrets to each other. It brought together an ensemble cast of young actors that included Emilio Estevez as the overachieving jock, Judd Nelson as the rebellious thug, teen queen Molly Ringwald as the popular snob, and Anthony Michael Hall as the nerd who gives the newly-formed group the name "The Breakfast Club." Sheedy played the loner and perhaps the most misunderstood of them all, mainly because she spoke very little, except for the random outbursts and unexpected squeaks. Clad in all black, Sheedy provided much-needed comic relief during the film's more tense moments, including revealing that she actually volunteered to be in detention for lack of something better to do, and partaking of her favorite lunch, the Captain Crunch and Pixie Stick sandwich, which hundreds of teenagers actually emulated after the film's release.
On a roll, Sheedy co-headlined the Joel Schumacher-directed film "St. Elmo's Fire" about a group of seven Gen-X friends who struggle with their lives and loves after college. She played the straight-laced Leslie Hunter, who while dating the ambitious political aide Alec Newbury (Judd Nelson) and learns he has cheated on her with a lingerie model, is drawn to her more sensitive friend Kevin Dolenz (Andrew McCarthy). Unlike the arty, loner character of "The Breakfast Club," Sheedy as Leslie showed more gumption a young woman determined to develop a strong sense of self before settling down and having children with possibly the wrong partner. Co-starring Demi Moore, Robe Lowe, Mare Winningham and Emilio Estevez, "St. Elmo's Fire" became yet another Generation-X touchstone. Save for Winningham, the combined cast of both movies was dubbed by New York Magazine as the "Brat Pack," a celebrated circle of young actor friends who not only often appeared together in their teen-centric movies, but also excessively partied, became the epitome of cool, and often dated amongst themselves. The exclusive clique led a charmed life, but it did not last long.
Most Brat Packer careers stalled in the next decade, some succumbed to substance abuse, and friendships quickly eroded. Perhaps the most painful was Sheedy's falling out with close pal Moore; reports were rampant that Moore's emerging sex-symbol status disturbed Sheedy but nothing was ever confirmed. Prior to their split, the two were such good friends that Sheedy was a bridesmaid when Moore wed Bruce Willis in 1987, and it was Moore, a former cocaine addict, who staged an intervention for Sheedy in 1989 when she had reportedly become addicted to sleeping pills after dating Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora. Before her career went downhill in the 1990s, Sheedy enjoyed a few final leading roles in minor hits, such as the classic comedy "Short Circuit" (1986) as a young woman who bonds with an experimental military robot named Number 5, and in the comedy "Maid to Order" (1987) as a wealthy, twenty-something woman who, with the help of a unique "fairy godmother," is forced to clean other people's homes to learn life lessons. She reunited with "Breakfast Club" co-star, Ringwald, in the romantic comedy "Betsy's Wedding" (1990), playing Ringwald's tough and embittered older sister.
The 1990s saw the talented actress appearing in mostly straight-to-video films and second-rate cable thrillers. Sheedy felt the pressure and tried to shake off the "Brat Pack" label to get better, more adult roles, but movie executives were not easily convinced that she had more to offer. She came close to nabbing the lead in several hit movies such as "A League of Their Own" (1992), but was not cast because she could not play baseball well enough. After years of uninspiring roles, Sheedy made her comeback in 1998 playing a middle-aged, lesbian drug-addict in the Sundance award-winning film "High Art," a riveting movie about the reclusive SoHo photographer Lucy Berliner and her tumultuous affair with an art magazine intern (Radha Mitchell). When asked how she prepared for the emotionally challenging role, Sheedy - who had battled drug addiction and eating disorders herself - told The New York Times, "I felt so close to the material that I figured the less I did, the better." Sheedy earned several nominations and awards for her role in the critically acclaimed film, including an Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead in 1999.
With her status as a serious and more mature actor assured, Sheedy landed juicier roles including that of a lonely production designer in "Sugar Town" (1999) and a quirky blind date in the romantic comedy "I'll Take You There" (1999). She also took on another gender-bending role in the off-Broadway rock opera "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (1999), about a fictional rock band fronted by a German transsexual singer. She was the first female to play the part of the transgender Hedwig (originated by John Cameron Mitchell on stage and in the 1999 feature film), but her stint was cut short by an onslaught of bad reviews. Television - particularly of the sci-fi nature - also provided steady work in the 2000s for the versatile actress. She had a guest role in 2003 on "The Dead Zone" (USA Network, 2002-07) starring "Breakfast Club" co-star Hall, played a murderous UFO cult member in a 2007 episode of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (CBS, 2000- ), and had a featured role on the drama "Kyle XY" (ABC, 2006-09). In 2009, she starred in the drama "Ten Stories Tall" about two New York families forced to reconcile as they cope with the death of the family matriarch.
By Candy Cuenco