There is a persistent rumor on the Internet that there exists some nefarious “Disney curse.” Perpetrators of the rumor suggest that stars touched by the curse are doomed to suffer career collapses, personal breakdowns and public disdain. Suggesting nothing short of sorcery, rumormongers spread tales of the malingering hand of Hollywood voodoo encroaching upon the brightest corners of the happiest place on Earth
While rational minds approach the subject with skepticism, it can be difficult for even the staunchest opponent to deny the existence of certain patterns. It is, of course, a much simpler task to examine the causes behind this pattern than it is to dissect and dwell upon its individual elements.
Disney’s stars, often plucked at a young age from the arms of domineering relatives, are subjected to long schedules, high levels of pressure and public scrutiny. These issues are difficult enough for adults to handle, let alone impressionable children. Furthermore, many of Disney’s actors are discovered at a critical period in their life, just before puberty. At a time when most teens are discovering themselves, these young stars are confined to a system predicated upon an artificial wholesomeness. As they struggle to define themselves, they find their personal image being dictated to them by authority figures who deny them the capacity to rebel.
It is no surprise, then that many of these stars — once they reach adulthood — overcompensate for the years they feel they have lost. Evolving almost overnight from children into adults, it doesn’t require the convenience of a curse to explain the faltering first steps of a child celebrity who has been relieved of the burden of a perpetual childhood.
On this list, we’ve collected seven examples of the supposed “Disney curse.” Here, we take a look at seven Disney stars who — thrust into adulthood — followed their internal compasses away from the looming spires of the Magic Kingdom.
Sensi Pearl is, perhaps, the most glaring example of a Disney trophy tarnished by the passage of time. Pearl got her start in the Disney film Read It and Weep before going on to roles in 2006’s High School Musical and 2007’s High School Musical 2.
Pulling a U-turn on the old Disney highway, Pearl had the distinguished honor of being named the “Heart-On Girl” for the X-Rated Critics Organization Awards in 2011. At 22 years old, she has starred in sixteen adult videos including the Internet classics Too Big For Teens 9, Mother-Daughter Exchange Club 22 and Barely Legal 123.
In 2013, Pearl retired from the adult film industry in a bid to appease her family. It is unlikely that she will be reprising her roles in the High School Musical series.
Lindsay Lohan got her big break in Disney’s 1998 film, The Parent Trap. In dual roles, Lohan earned a Young Artist Award for her portrayal of identical twins separated at birth but united in their goal to get their divorced parents back together. Going on to star in a number of additional Disney films, Lohan’s career seemed to be on track until she received a less fortunate break in 2007.
The opening entry on Lohan’s remarkably lengthy arrest record, her arrest in May of 2007 for driving under the influence marked the actress’ first break from Disney’s chaste image. Since then, Lohan has found herself on the wrong side of the law more than a few times for charges such as possession of cocaine, shoplifting, failing to perform court-mandated community service, and assault.
For four seasons, Miley Cyrus starred as the eponymous Hannah Montana in the Disney series of the same name. Born into Hollywood, Cyrus — the daughter of country singer Billy Ray Cyrus — later branched out to pursue a career in music and film. In 2010, she starred in an adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ The Last Song and in 2012, she had a brief stint on CBS’s Two and a Half Men.
As early as 2008 — when she was just 15 years old — Cyrus began to deviate from the Disney-approved path. In a series of photographs for Vanity Fair, famed photographer Annie Liebovitz (allegedly) snapped topless pictures of the underage Cyrus. Most notable, however, is Cyrus’ recent performance at the MTV Video Music Awards where she lasciviously “danced” against co-performer Robin Thicke.
Selena Gomez got her start on Barney & Friends before transitioning into a number of Disney projects including The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and The Wizards of Waverly Place. Gomez enjoyed success within the Disney system for nearly ten years and parlayed her popularity into a singing career with her band Selena Gomez & the Scene.
Earlier this year, however, it was revealed that Gomez spent time in a rehabilitation facility. Though her representatives were quick to point out that the stay was “not for substance abuse,” Gomez’s squeaky clean image had already begun to lose its luster when, in 2012, she starred as the bikini-clad Faith in Harmony Korine’s over-the-top tale of a teenage bacchanalia, Spring Breakers.
Like many of the other stars on our list, Vanessa Hudgens started her career in Disney’s High School Musical. Starring in all three films in the series, she used the momentum she gained from them to launch a prosperous music career. Her debut album, V, was certified gold and its followup, Identity, was praised by fans and critics alike.
Hudgens’ trouble began in 2007 when a series of provocative nude photographs were leaked online. In a discussion with People magazine, Hudgens lamented that she was “embarrassed over this situation and regret[ted] having ever taken these photos.” However, in 2012 Hudgens’ image once again trended away from Disney-approved when — alongside Selena Gomez — she starred as a scantily clad bank robber named Candy in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers.
Gaining her fame from the television movie Camp Rock, Demi Lovato toyed — unsurprisingly — with a career in music. Her first offering, Don’t Forget, debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
In 2011, Lovato paid the price for bad behavior when Disney canceled Sonny with a Chance, the show on which she starred. It started in 2010 after she “left [a] tour early this weekend in order to seek medical treatment for emotional and physical issues.” Lovato later admitted to striking one of her backup dancers during the tour and cited the reasons for her treatment as bulimia and self-injury along with abuse of drugs and alcohol.
The poster child for fallen stars, Britney Spears got her start on The Mickey Mouse Club at the tender age of eleven. Harboring dreams of being a household name, Spears was molded by executives at Jive Records who pushed her to become the pop superstar that dominated the airwaves in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Sadly, Spears ventured off the rails almost as soon as she realized she was on them. After two weddings in the same year, she decided to check herself into rehab, where she promptly changed her mind, left, shaved her head, and then checked herself back in. Not long after, she got caught driving one-handed with her son in her lap. In 2007, she lost custody of her children and was put on an involuntarily psychiatric hold at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.