LOS ANGELES - Former U.S figure skating champion Christopher Bowman has been found dead at a budget hotel in the San Fernando Valley. He was 40.

Bowman was pronounced dead Thursday at 12:06 p.m., said Coroner's Lt. Joe Bale, who confirmed the death was being investigated as a possible drug overdose, but wasn't immediately able to provide more details. An autopsy was planned for this weekend, he said.

A desk clerk who answered the phone at the hotel late Thursday declined comment.

"He just passed away in his sleep," Bowman's mother, Joyce, told the Detroit Free Press. "His friend told me that he was fine. He just went to bed and didn't wake up."

The friend who found Bowman told police the former skating champion might have been drinking the night before his death.

Bowman, a former child actor, was one of figure skating's bigger personalities in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Immensely talented, with a gift for performance that few others could match, he won the U.S. men's figure skating titles in 1989 and 1992, and was runner-up in 1987 and 1991.

He was runner-up to Canadian champion Kurt Browning at the 1989 world championships in Paris. The next year, in Halifax, Bowman won bronze as Browning won the second of his four world titles.

The lone Skate Canada International medal won by Bowman on the Grand Prix circuit was silver in Regina in 1986.

"If I had to pick the three most talented skaters of all time, I would pick Christopher as one," Brian Boitano, the 1988 Olympic champion, told the Chicago Tribune. "He had natural charisma, natural athleticism, he could turn on a crowd in a matter of seconds and he always seemed so relaxed about it."

But as talented as he was on the ice, Bowman could be just as big a challenge off it. He bounced from coach to coach long before it became fashionable - he once won Skate America when he was in-between coaches - and freely admitted that practice was something that just didn't interest him much.

"Each and every competition that I train for, prepare for, is always a personal challenge for me because, as we all know, the training and discipline between each event is very difficult for me," Bowman said in 1992.

He battled drug problems, and underwent treatment at least twice - once before the 1988 Calgary Olympics and then again after the Albertville Games in 1992.

Canadian skater Toller Cranston, who coached Bowman, described the American skater's debauched behaviour during the period they shared Cranston's Toronto home in the 1997 book, "Zero Tollerance." Drug dealers and prostitutes rang Cranston's doorbell at all hours in search of Bowman, Cranston wrote.

Bowman's run-ins with the law included a no contest plea in November 2004 to two misdemeanours involving having a gun while drunk in Rochester Hills, Mich.

In 1993, while skating with the Ice Capades, he was beaten at a hotel in a seedy neighbourhood in Pittsburgh, according to a police report.

Richard Callaghan, coach of Bowman's longtime rival, Todd Eldredge, said he was saddened to learn of Bowman's death.

"When Todd told me, I said, 'What a shame,"' Callaghan told the Free Press. "Christopher was such a nice person. Even though he was troubled, he was very genuine and friendly.

"There was a great rivalry between Christopher and Todd because they were so opposite. Christopher was always on; he was the star when it came to doing any competitions. Most of us didn't know how he did it, but he did."

Born in Hollywood, on March 30, 1967, Bowman had a part in the TV series "Little House on the Prairie" for one season and appeared in dozens of commercials. He got into coaching after his skating career was finished, and the Free Press said he had lived in the Detroit area from 1995 until last February.

Recently, Bowman had returned to acting. He had a role as an assistant coach in the upcoming Brian De Palma-directed movie "Down and Distance" starring Gary Busey.

Bowman had a daughter with his former wife, Annette Bowman, according to the Free Press.

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