A rock journalist turned screenwriter and director, Cameron Crowe first became known for creating realistic and funny portraits of modern youth. After writing the screenplay for Amy Heckerling's seminal 1980s teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Crowe found further acclaim directing and writing another seminal 1980s teen comedy, Say Anything... (1989). Following Singles (1992), his engaging take on romantic angst among a group of young Seattle twentysomethings, he achieved his greatest commercial and critical success to date as the writer, producer, and director of the much-honored Tom Cruise vehicle Jerry Maguire (1996).
Born in Palm Springs, CA, but raised in San Diego, Crowe became a journalist at the age of 15, writing music reviews and articles for such major publications as Creem, Playboy, and Penthouse. A year later, he became a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and was later promoted to associate editor. During this period, he interviewed many rock music legends, including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, and Eric Clapton. At age the age of 22, he returned to high school to research a book on adolescent life and subsequently adapted the best-selling result into the script for Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). The film became something of a legend, not only because of its realistic, sensitive, and funny portrayal of teenage travails, but also for launching the careers of some of Hollywood's brightest stars, notably Sean Penn and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Crowe's screenplay netted him a nomination for a Best Screen Adaptation award from the Writers Guild of America.
In 1989, Crowe continued to mine the lucrative adolescent vein with his directorial debut Say Anything..., again earning kudos for creating believable multidimensional characters in an age when most teen comedies were relying on sex jokes and flimsy stereotypes. With his next directorial effort, he delved into the lives of a group of friends struggling to become adults in the Seattle-set Singles (1992). The film was not as well-received as Say Anything..., but it did feature strong ensemble acting from a cast that included Matt Dillon, Bridget Fonda, Campbell Scott, and Kyra Sedgwick.
Jerry Maguire represented Crowe's first foray into exploration of more adult concerns, although its presentation of a young career hotshot who acts upon an internal moral crisis has resonance with his earlier work. One of the biggest hits of 1996, the film was remarkable for bridging the two disparate romantic chick flick and sports movie genres. Following the success of Maguire, which earned Crowe a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination, as well as a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Cruise and a Best Supporting Actor statuette for Cuba Gooding Jr., Crowe laid low for awhile, working on his next project. That next project, initially called the "Untitled Cameron Crowe Project," became Almost Famous (2000), the semi-autobiographical story of an aspiring teenage rock journalist who is given the chance to follow an up-and-coming rock band as they tour 1970s America. The film, which featured a stellar ensemble cast that included Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Patrick Fugit as Crowe's alter ego, was embraced enthusiastically by critics and audiences alike, furthering its writer/director's reputation as one of Hollywood's most reliable and entertaining filmmakers and winning the Best Film Comedy award at the 2000 Golden Globes. When the time came to announce the winners of the 73rd Annual Academy Awards, Almost Famous was again victorious, with Crowe taking home the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The following year Crowe would make his first venture into the land of remakes with Vanilla Sky. A reworking of Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar's fiercely original Open Your Eyes, Crowe retained that film's star, Penelope Cruz, though he made a noted addition in casting Jerry Maguire star Tom Cruise. A surreal romantic thriller dealing with obsessive love, the shallowness of vanity, and the struggle with disfigurement, the film marked Cruise's first film appearance following the actor's well-publicized breakup with Nicole Kidman, and served as a catalyst for the budding romance between its two similarly named co-stars. In 2005 he returned as writer/director of Elizabethtown, but the film met with a chilly critical reception and dismal box office.
Crowe spent a few years out of the limelight, but started to recharge himself with a pair of documentaries about rock and roll. The Union captured Elton John recording the album of the same name with Leon Russell, and Pearl Jam Twenty served up an extensive history of the grunge band to celebrate their twentieth anniversary. He returned to fiction film with We Bought a Zoo, starring Matt Damon as a widower adventure writer who fixes up a decrepit zoo with his children.