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Allen, Chad (b. 1974)  
 
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Chad Allen gained fame for his sensitive portrayal of an autistic child on a hit television show, but unlike many child stars, he has successfully made the transition from child actor to adult actor. He has also come out as a gay man and become a vocal advocate for glbtq rights.

Chad Allen Lazzari and his twin sister, Charity, were born in Cerritos, California on June 5, 1974 and grew up in the neighboring city of Long Beach. Their mother entered the winsome children in twin contests, and when they had success, considered getting them into show business. Her daughter did not enjoy working before the camera, but her son was a natural and made his first professional appearance in a McDonald's commercial at the age of four.

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When Allen was six he won a role in the pilot episode for a television series, but the show was not picked up. Two years later he was cast as Tommy Westphall, an autistic child, on the hit drama series St. Elsewhere (1983-1986, 1988). Allen later said that his mother explained that "autistic kids lived in their own world, and I understood that."

Allen's performance as Tommy Westphall was extraordinarily affecting and nuanced. It quickly established him as a child actor of unusual sensitivity and talent, one who could hold his own in a strong ensemble cast.

The youthful Allen had guest roles on almost a dozen series in the 1980s and played recurring characters on Webster (1985-1986), Our House (1986-1988), and My Two Dads (1989-1990). He also appeared in a number of made-for-television movies.

The handsome young Allen also became a teen idol. He was frequently featured in magazines for young people and was mobbed whenever he went out in public. Though he initially enjoyed the celebrity, he came to resent the discrepancy between the idealized image of him in the magazines and the reality of who he really was. "I was in teen magazines all the time and in reality, what was I? A 13-year-old who's as fucked up as every other 13-year-old across the country."

At sixteen, after four years of being educated by tutors while working on television programs, Allen quit show business to go to high school and "be a normal teenager." He attended a Catholic high school where some of his teachers were gay priests. One, he said, "was very open and helpful to students who were openly gay."

Allen was accepted as a student at New York University but at the same time was offered a regular role on the television show Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman (1992-1998). He chose to go back to acting and spent six years on the highly successful series, making the transition from child star to accomplished adult actor and from teen idol to versatile character actor.

In 1996 the Globe tabloid published a photo of Allen kissing another young man at a pool party. He feared that the outing might spell the end of his acting career, or at least his tenure on the wholesome and family-oriented Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman, but his coworkers were supportive of him. Allen, who described himself as "not political" at that time, did not then comment on his sexual orientation.

The tabloid story did not attract a great deal of general attention, but Allen did begin receiving letters from gay fans, many of whom told him their own stories. He was particularly touched by messages from young people, a large number of them closeted and apprehensive.

Allen replied to their letters but did not come out publicly until 2001, when he gave an interview to The Advocate in conjunction with National Coming Out Day.

In coming out, Allen was candid in talking about his past, which included drug and alcohol abuse and participation in circuit parties. By then, however, he had entered a recovery program and was taking his life in positive new directions.

Allen subsequently appeared in numerous theater productions and several films, including Ramin Niami's Paris (2003) and Rafal Zielinski's Downtown: A Street Tale (2004).

In 2006, Allen starred in Jim Hanon's The End of the Spear, which is based on the true stories of five evangelical Christian missionaries who were killed by the Waodani people in the Amazon region of Ecuador and of Steve Saint, the son of one of the slain men, who eventually returned to the area and befriended the Waodani. Allen portrays both Saint and his father in the film.

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