Two-time U.S. figure skating champion Christopher Bowman, known as "Bowman the Showman" for his crowd-pleasing skills and as "Hans Brinker From Hell" for his unruly lifestyle, was found dead at a North Hills motel Thursday afternoon.
Bowman, a Hollywood native who had lived in the Midwest but returned here to coach skating about a year ago, was 40.
Bowman was found shortly after noon inside the Budget Inn in the 9100 block of Sepulveda Boulevard. His death is being investigated as a possible drug overdose, said Lt. Joe Bale of the Los Angeles County Coroner's office. The coroner's office must determine whether his death was accidental or a suicide.
Capable of controlled elegance on the ice and devilish behavior away from the rink, Bowman finished second at the 1989 world championships and third in 1990. He was seventh at the 1988 Olympics and missed a medal by placing fourth in 1992.
A former child actor, Bowman began skating in the San Fernando Valley. He was coached for 18 years by Frank Carroll, but their fractious relationship ended not long after Bowman disobeyed Carroll's instructions and improvised much of his free skate program at the 1990 world championships.
Bowman had checked himself into the Betty Ford Clinic for treatment of a drug problem before the 1988 Games. Toller Cranston, a Canadian skater who coached Bowman and allowed Bowman to share his Toronto home, described scenes of drug dealers and prostitutes ringing his doorbell at all hours in search of Bowman in his 1997 book, "Zero Tollerance."
Cranston wrote that Bowman "sometimes announced that he was going out for a carton of milk and didn't return for three days." He said Bowman admitted stealing money from him but also said Bowman "had huge charisma, tremendous personality, and a wonderful sense of humor."
John Nicks, a distinguished, longtime coach who took Bowman on before the 1992 Olympics, called Bowman "talented but entertaining and a very congenial guy."
Nicks added, "His life was short, but most of it he enjoyed.
"The great pity about it is he never realized his outstanding talent. He's one of the most talented figure skaters of all time but he had an erratic training discipline. There were times he would work hard and lots of times that he didn't."
Brian Boitano, the 1988 Olympic figure skating champion, said Bowman never denigrated his competitors.
"If I had to pick the three most talented skaters of all time, I would pick Christopher as one," Boitano said. "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."
Morry Stillwell, who has been a judge, local club official and president of the U.S. Figure Skating Assn., said he knew Bowman from the time Bowman was 9 years old. Stillwell last saw him about a year ago and said Bowman seemed happy.
"I sit here with tears in my eyes," Stillwell said. "He was one of the more talented people I have known throughout my years in skating. He certainly didn't get the most out of his talent."
Tribune Olympic reporter Philip Hersh contributed to this report from Chicago. Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed from Los Angeles.