The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

A Warning About Patrick Dempsey Syndrome

Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor

I’m taking a break from my normally comfortable perch as CC2K’s Book Editor to warn you, our loyal readers, about a public health risk we should all be aware of: Patrick Dempsey Syndrome.

Symptoms include “awkward” appearance in one’s teens or 20s, followed by exponentially increased attractiveness in one’s 30s and 40s.  The syndrome seems to exclusively affect males, but officials fear it could be contagious, as it has spread rapidly in one very specific subset of the population: 1980s actors.

Let’s start with our Patient Zero, Patrick Dempsey…

Before: in 1987, a then-21-year-old Dempsey starred in Can’t Buy Me Love, an 1980s teen romantic comedy memorable primarily because it was the only 1980s teen romantic comedy that was neither written nor directed by John Hughes.  Dempsey played Ronald Miller, a geeky high school senior who pays the most popular girl in school to pretend to be his girlfriend.  He’s skinny.  He’s got poofy hair.  His vehicle of choice is a lawnmower.  I was about 13 or 14 when I watched it for the first time.  I remember thinking that Ronnie Miller was the kind of guy I could fall in puppy love with.  He was exactly the kind of gentle, nonthreatening guy I dug as an early adolescent.

I wondered whatever happened to Patrick Dempsey.

After: It was 2003 when I noticed Patrick Dempsey again, in an ABC Family movie with Kimberly Williams Paisley called Lucky 7.  Dempsey had not only gotten older, he had gotten HOTTER.  He had filled out, gotten a better haircut, and generally just looked better.

Then there was Grey’s Anatomy.  Hard to believe that the guy once famous for the African Anteater Ritual became Dr. McDreamy.

Case Study #2: Anthony Michael Hall.  Anthony Michael Hall is best remembered as “the geek” in…well, pretty much every John Hughes movie ever made (with the notable exception of Pretty in Pink, which is good, because Jon Cryer is absolutely friggin’ awesome as Duckie).  He was a skinny blond with braces, a squeaky voice, and a frizzy mop of hair.  He hit his heyday in the 80s, got into drugs and alcohol, disappeared from the scene for a while, and then…came back.

In 2002, The Dead Zone debuted on USA.  The Anthony Michael Hall who starred in the show was unrecognizable as the Anthony Michael Hall who starred in 1980s teen comedies.  He was muscular and chiseled and…soulful.  Holy hell.  I don’t know what happened to the geek who showed off Molly Ringwald’s underwear to an entire bathroom full of freshman boys, but I’m glad it did.

Speaking of John Hughes movies, that brings us to case study #3: Andrew McCarthy.

At first glance, Andrew McCarthy might seem like a strange addition to this list.  After all, McCarthy wasn’t exactly considered geeky in his Brat Pack days.  In fact, he was the guy that Molly Ringwald went for INSTEAD of Duckie in Pretty in Pink.  (And seriously, who could turn down Duckie after his kick-ass dance routine to Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness?  Who?  Duckie so deserved better.)

But he was just so…blah.  I mean, his generic yuppie cuteness just annoyed me.  (He’s especially annoying in St. Elmo’s Fire.  Did anyone else notice that?)  He was almost pretty, with his blue eyes and boyish face.  

But then, I saw him in a 2003 TV movie called Straight From the Heart.  McCarthy played a widowed rancher who falls in love again.  When I heard the premise, I was like, “Andrew McCarthy, a rancher?  I don’t buy it.”  Until I actually saw him.  In two decades, McCarthy had gained a little bit of roughness that turned him from being pretty cute (or prettily cute) to…hot.  The smile lines around his eyes, the roughness of his skin, the now-chiseled angles of his cheekbones…

Patrick Dempsey Syndrome, undoubtedly.

Finally, to our final case study: George Clooney.

George Clooney, you say.  That’s impossible.  He’s George Clooney.  Andrew McCarthy, maybe, but not George Clooney.  He was always hot.

Not so fast.

Once upon a time (i.e. the 1980s), George Clooney was a little-known television actor.  He played “George” (how creative) on the last two seasons of The Facts of Life…you know, the two seasons after Mrs. Garrett left that no one bothered watching.  He wasn’t terrible looking, but he definitely wasn’t the George Clooney we all know and love now.  He was…kind of a dork, actually.

At some point around the time he started on ER, he started to get hotter.  And he continue to get hotter.  And hotter.  And hotter.

I can’t say when George Clooney hit his peak.  I’m not sure he has.

He’s a victim of Patrick Dempsey Syndrome.  What else could explain it?

So to all those of you out there in danger of this condition (especially if you had a film or television career in the 80s), please, be warned.  Patrick Dempsey Syndrome could be extremely dangerous, especially to the heterosexual women and gay men who may approach those afflicted.