In a world where going downhill in life is sensationalized by the media, it seems that if you enter into Hollywood as a child actor, you’re destined for a life of drugs, rehab, fast cars, prostitutes, alcohol, and life failures in general. But in the midst of the Lindsay Lohans, Amanda Bynes, and Britney Spears, a childhood spent in the spotlight also has the capability for preparing youngsters for a life of stability and success. But we don’t hear about those child stars that grew up and managed not to go crazy or royally screw up in life.
With the recent passing of the late Shirley Temple, the world is reminded that there is indeed child stars that grow up to lead fulfilling and successful lives long after the cameras are shut off in their childhood. One of the best-known child actors who grew up to be awesome is “How I Met Your Mother” star Neil Patrick Harris. After his “Doogie Houser” years, Harris spent time in the theatre and eventually made a huge comeback in television. Anna Paquin was one of the youngest people to win an Oscar for her supporting role in “The Pianist” and is still going strong in the world of Hollywood with “True Blood”, a marriage, and babies. Or, you may remember Mayim Bialik from “Blossom”, well after her child star days concluded, she went to school and earned her PhD in neuroscience and is now starring in “The Big Bang Theory” as a doctor as well. For many child stars, they used their previous fame to make big strides like “Wonder Years” actress Danica McKellar who became a math wiz and now has a few books under her belt and inspiring young girls to excel at math.
Below is a list of the top ten child stars whose lives didn’t go downhill once they grew up. In fact, they became quite successful in their careers, some still being in front of the camera while a few moved away from the camera. Some of these names you’ll probably recognize and some that you didn’t even know were child stars. Get ready to visit the past!
10. Brooke Shields – $20 Million
Brooke Shields is known for having one of the most notorious stage mothers of all time, who was willing to let her daughter take it all off for films such as “Pretty Baby” and “The Blue Lagoon”. For being an iconic and controversial child star, Shields has kept it together and has since become a mother. She hasn’t pressured her own children into the career that was pushed upon her. Shields even took a break from her career to attend Princeton and remains one of the most respected stars in the industry.
9. Kirsten Dunst – $25 Million
Kirsten Dunst made waves with her breakthrough role in “Interview With A Vampire” where she played a young vampire who was maturing in spirit, but not in body. She then went on to star in more films such a “Jumanji” and becoming one of Hollywood’s most loved child actresses. She has maintained a consistent career in film with roles in her teens and early adulthood, and made headlines with her role as Mary Jane in the Spiderman films. She made the transition from child actor to adult actor look seamless.
8. Joseph Gordon-Levitt – $25 Million
One of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s earliest roles was playing George on the iconic television show, “Roseanne”. He was also the adorable baseball loving kid praying for a miracle in the Disney film, “Angels in the Outfield”. Then he was the teenaged alien on the show, “3rd Rock From the Sun”. Even before he grew up to be the star that he is today, Gordon-Levitt already had an impressive career as a child star that foreshadowed the successful career he now has.
7. Alyssa Milano – $45 Million
Alyssa Milano was best known for her role in “Who’s the Boss” for a long time, even after she moved on to shows like “Melrose Place” and “Charmed” that have put her on the fast track towards a strong career in television and film. Unlike most child actors, Milano continued to get work rather consistently, which most likely spared her from the break that many young actors experience once they grow up. Since she’s grown up, she has become a spokesperson for UNICEF and using her fame to make the world a better place.
6. Christian Bale – $60 Million
All right, let’s forget the onset freak out from a few years ago briefly and talk about how successful Christian Bale has been since his days as a child actor. His breakout role was in Steven Spielberg’s 1987 film, “Empire of the Sun”, and then a few years later in 1989, he had a role in Kenneth Branagh’s “Henry V”. Bale then moved on to major roles in movies like, “Little Women”, “Newsies” and “Velvet Goldmine”. While some of these roles weren’t Oscar-winning greats, they were enough to keep Bale consistent in Hollywood and busy enough to avoid going down the crazy hill that many child actors descend upon. He made the transition, and became one of Hollywood’s most iconic actors.
5. Jodie Foster – $100 Million
You can’t talk about successful child actors without mentioning Jodie Foster. Before she was old enough to go to college, Foster had over 50 film and television credits to her name (so yes folks, she did much more than “Taxi Driver”). Her career started at the age of three for a Coppertone commercial and her career was nonstop ever since. Granted, she did have some dry times during her transition from child to adult actor with three unsuccessful films under her belt. But her role in “The Accused” set her back on the road to success.
4. Drew Barrymore – $125 Million
Well, technically Drew Barrymore did go downhill a bit, but she seemed to have gotten it out of her system early with getting drunk at 9 years old, using cocaine at 12, and then hitting rock bottom for the first year of her teens. The “E.T.” child actress soon got it together and started to make her way back into Hollywood without controversy or drugs. The hard word has paid off as she now has a long list of roles in film and television and has even moved on to some directing opportunities with “Whip It!” as her directorial debut.
3. Ron Howard – $140 Million
For many who have been following Ron Howard’s career, the then eight-year old star singing with the adorable lisp in “The Music Man” may be ringing in your ears or images of him playing Opie in “The Andy Griffith Show” and his fishing pole may be going off in your head. Howard has had quite the acting career that includes many comebacks of being a child actor. He got his biggest comeback for his role in “Happy Days” which he shocked the world when he left the show at the height of his popularity so he could become a director. It turned out to be a wise choice because Howard is now one of the most successful directors out there and even has a few Oscars under his belt.
2. Leonardo DiCaprio – $200 Million
Leonardo DiCaprio got his start doing commercials, and he had a brief stint on “Romper Room” but had to be removed from the set for being too disruptive (surprised?). But when he was 14, he caught the attention of Hollywood audiences for his role in a short lived series based on the film, “Parenthood” and then had a small recurring role in the show “Growing Pains” as a teenager in 1991. Leo’s career started early but was more of a slow burn, as his profile rose with his years. He didn’t let the late the slow late start or the early exposure to the cut throat acting business hinder the progress of his career, which continues to go from strength to strength.
1. Elizabeth Taylor – $600 Million
This one might be a bit debatable since Elizabeth Taylor did have more marriages than normal celebrities, but she has had quite a career from her childhood to the end of her life. And if you still disagree, please don’t compare Lindsay Lohan’s performance as Liz in the made-for-TV movie. Taylor had one of the most iconic and successful careers in Hollywood, and based on her performances as a child in “National Velvet” and “Little Women”, audiences knew they had someone special on the screen. Before she died, Taylor became a friend and advocate for the LGBT community and left most of her fortune to anti-AIDS activism.