Every decade has its teen heartthrobs — from John Travolta in the ’70s to Rob Lowe in the ’80s to Leonardo DiCaprio in the ’90s. In the ’00s, the brooding blond Chad Michael Murray took on teen dream status thanks to his starring role in the juicy series One Tree Hill and his appearances alongside fellow early-’00s icons like Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff in Freaky Friday and A Cinderella Story.
While many teen stars have trouble finding their footing as adults, Murray, now 42, has kept working steadily in recent years, with roles in a variety of TV shows and Hallmark romances. Over 20 years after he made his debut, the star is still making us swoon. Here’s a nostalgic look back at Chad Michael Murray young.
A difficult early life
Born in Buffalo, New York in 1981, Murray grew up under trying circumstances: His family struggled financially, and mother moved out when he was just 10 years old, leaving him and his four siblings to be raised by their single father. Murray found refuge in high school football, but his teen years were filled with drama.
At 15, Murray had a near-death experience when his intestines twisted. This terrifying episode gave him clarity on what he wanted to do with his life. As the actor recalled in a People interview, “The one thing that really saved me from that moment in life where I missed Christmas and I missed New Years was television and film… These movies and television would be on and I would be like, ‘I want to do that‘… I want to give people something to smile about.”
A few years later, Murray found himself back in the hospital after he was jumped in a Burger King and broke his nose. His nose was reset, leading some people to speculate that he had a nose job once he became famous. However, Murray told Entertainment Weekly “it wasn’t a nose job — I hate the fact that people say it was a nose job!”
Surprisingly, Murray’s broken nose helped kickstart his career, as the nurse who fixed his nose suggested that the handsome teen look into modeling. After connecting with an agent at a convention, Murray packed up and moved to Los Angeles.
Chad Michael Murray the model
Shortly after he relocated, Murray booked a gig with Tommy Hilfiger, as well as other modeling jobs with brands like Skechers and Gucci. He also appeared in a few commercials. Murray was more interested in acting than modeling, and soon enough, he started to book small roles.
Murray’s first role was in Scruples, a TV pilot that was ultimately not picked up. In 2000, he appeared in episodes of Undressed and Diagnosis Murder. That same year, he booked a role in the debut season of Gilmore Girls and moved from unknown to rising teen star.
Murray goes to Stars Hollow
On Gilmore Girls Murray played the swaggering Tristan Dugray, who mainly served the purpose of stirring up drama with Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel). Tristan and Rory had an enemies-to-lovers relationship, which started with Tristan teasing Rory and ended with him falling for her.
Murray then moved from Gilmore Girls to another popular show of the era, Dawson’s Creek. Murray played Charlie Todd, a womanizing bad boy similar to Tristan. Charlie dated both of the female protagonists, Jen Lindley (Michelle Williams) and Joey Potter (Katie Holmes). Murray was on the show until 2002, when his character’s band left to go on tour.
Murray becomes a TV star
Murray hit it big in 2003 when he was cast as Lucas Scott on One Tree Hill. The show revolved around half-brothers and total opposites Lucas and Nathan Scott (James Lafferty) who were raised apart but are forced to face each other when Lucas joins Nathan’s varsity basketball team. When the two teens become teammates, familial tensions arise.
The addictive drama ran for nine seasons, from 2003 to 2012. Murray, however, left the series after season six in 2009, along with his onscreen wife, Hilarie Burton, due to contract disputes. While Murray didn’t appear in seasons seven or eight, he came back in the ninth and final season for a guest appearance.
The attractive cast of One Tree Hill was the subject of much media coverage and fan obsession, and sparks flew between the stars onscreen and off. During One Tree Hill’s run, Chad Michael Murray married his other onscreen flame, Sophia Bush, in 2005, but they filed for divorce only five months later. In 2006, Murray became engaged to Kenzie Dalton, a One Tree Hill extra who played a cheerleader in two episodes. The couple remained engaged until breaking up in 2013.
Murray takes on Hollywood
In 2003, the same year One Tree Hill began, Murray acted in the popular 2003 remake of the classic body-switching family comedy Freaky Friday, playing Lindsay Lohan’s love interest. Murray’s best-remembered moment in the movie came when he serenaded Lohan from outside her window with a charmingly off-key rendition of Britney Spears‘ hit “…Baby One More Time“
In a 2023 interview with Vulture, Murray reflected on how he knew the role was special from the beginning, saying, “I do remember being an overconfident 19-year-old. And I don’t know where that stemmed from. I think I had far more confidence than brains. So when I walked into the room, I knew I was in the right place at the right time.”
Soon after Freaky Friday, Murray became a literal Prince Charming in the 2004 movie A Cinderella Story. Murray played the popular jock who secretly falls for his online penpal (Hilary Duff) without knowing who she really is in a charming update of the classic Cinderella fairytale. In a Cosmopolitan interview, Duff admitted to having a crush on Murray, and their charming chemistry definitely came through onscreen.
In 2005, Murray starred in the campy horror movie remake House of Wax alongside Paris Hilton. The movie centers on a group of teens stranded near a wax museum as they fight to not become the next exhibit. In the film, Murray showed off his buff physique and his ability to be just as charming in a scream-fest as he was in rom-coms.
Chad Michael Murray today
Murray will always be best-known as one of the preeminent dreamboats of the early aughts, but he’s still charming us years later in his second act as a Hallmark hunk. In recent years, Murray has been a romantic lead in Hallmark Christmas movies like Write Before Christmas, Road to Christmas and Angel Falls Christmas and the channel’s evergreen love stories like Sand Dollar Cove and The Beach House. He’s also been in Lifetime movies like Toying With the Holidays and Too Close for Christmas and the Great American Family movie Christmas on Windmill Way.
In an interview, Murray said, “We all love the holiday season. We all love these films. I’m going to do them for as long as I can” — and we can’t wait to watch them!
Outside of Hallmark movies, Murray has also appeared in movies like Fruitvale Station, Left Behind, Survive the Night and Fortress since leaving One Tree Hill and had multi-episode appearances on popular shows like Agent Carter and Riverdale. Currently, he stars in the drama series Sullivan’s Crossing.
Murray continues to stay busy offscreen. He’s currently married to fellow actress, Sarah Roemer, his co-star in the 2013 show Chosen, and the couple has three children. The multitalented Murray also co-wrote a graphic novel, Everlast, in 2011 and a romance novel, American Drifter, in 2017.
Murray currently has two action movies and a rom-com in the works, and whether he’s getting into high-energy fights or showing us the true meaning of Christmas, it’s clear that he’s made the transition from teen pretty boy to mature leading man.
For more Hallmark heartthrobs, keep reading!