British comedian Hugh Laurie could have easily taken another career track rather than that of well-known performer. As a secondary and college student, he was also a world-class oarsman. He wasn't the only one in the family to have a passion for the sport, however. His father won a gold medal at the 1948 London Olympics as part of the British national team. The youngest of four children, Laurie went to Eton College, perhaps Britain's best-known preparatory school. During his time there, he became involved in rowing. He quickly became one of the nation's best, and in 1977, he became one half of the national junior champion coxed pair. In the world junior championships held in Finland that year, he and his teammate finished fourth in the world.
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The following year, Laurie entered Cambridge University, with the intention of studying archeology and anthropology. He was also intent on joining the prestigious rowing team, which he had little problem doing. He reportedly became ill during his first year, however, and was forced to withdraw from the rowing competitions. While regaining his health, Laurie had his first experiences as a performer by getting involved with "the Footlights Club," a famed undergraduate comedy revue group. In his last year at Cambridge, Laurie was elected president of the club, with fellow Footlighter Emma Thompson acting as vice president.
Traditionally, at the end of the year, the Footlights take their act on the road throughout the nation. While on these tours, Laurie met, via Thompson, a young playwright named Stephen Fry. They collaborated on a sketch called "The Cellar Tapes," which they entered in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1981. They were awarded "Pick of the Fringe," enabling the duo, along with the other Footlight performers (including Thompson) to go on tour throughout England and, eventually, Australia. Soon thereafter, Laurie, Fry, Thompson, Robbie Coltrane, and Ben Elton formed the television sketch program Alfresco, eventually leading Laurie to the famous (in Britain, at least) Black Adder series, headed by Rowan Atkinson, and also to the Jeeves & Wooster series with Fry. It wasn't long after these successes that he began appearing in films. In 1992, he appeared alongside fellow comedians Fry and Thompson, as well as Kenneth Branagh and Rita Rudner, in the ensemble comedy Peter's Friends. He subsequently did outstanding work as a character actor in such films as Sense and Sensibility (1995) and 101 Dalmatians (1996). In 1999, he took the lead in the adaptation of E.B. White's Stuart Little, playing the adopted father to a walking, talking, fully dressed mouse, a role he'd reprise in the film's 2002 sequel Stuart Little 2.
After a two-year absence from the big screen, Laurie returned to the multiplexes in 2004 with a supporting role in Flight of the Phoenix, a remake of the 1965 James Stewart action-adventure film about a group of plane-crash survivors who attempt to build a new plane from the wreckage. That same year, Laurie essayed the titular role as the cynical but brilliant Dr. Gregory House in the prime-time Fox medical drama House, for which he would win a number of Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor in a TV Series Drama.
Laurie is also a musician of note, performing as a keyboardist with the rock band Poor White Trash. He added yet another profession to his lengthy list of accomplishments when, in 1996, he published his first novel, The Gun Seller. Married since 1989, he has three children with his wife, Jo. ~ Ryan Shriver, Rovi