Our culture has a fascination with child stars, and understandably so. They’re cute and precocious they can be prompted to recite hilarious lines. However, as it has often been observed, accumulating accolades, money, and power at such a young age can often lead a child star down a disastrous path. There are some rare instances of kid stars who were able to make the transition into respected adult actors. Christian Bale impressed audiences in Empire of the Sun and Newsies before his grown up roles in movies like American Psycho, The Machinist and Batman; Natalie Portman played the precocious sidekick to an assassin in The Professional and featured in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace before her later starring roles in V for Vendetta and Black Swan. Kiefer Sutherland was in The Lost Boys and Stand by Me well before his tenure as terrorist fighter Agent Jack Bauer in the tv show 24 (also proving that you can get anywhere in LA in 20 minutes and that CIA agents never have to use the bathroom!). There’s the even smaller category of “comeback kid”- those rare child stars who overcame early adversity brought on by their success and became functional members of society. Drew Barrymore melted hearts in ET as a young child, had some reckless teenage years that involved substance abuse and managed to overcome all of those experiences to become a very well respected actress and producer. And perhaps the original child star, Shirley Temple, who died in 2014 at age 85, enjoyed a long happy life and a productive career as a United States ambassador after her time as a child star, acting in many films such as Wee Willie Winkie, Heidi, and Curly Top. There’s also a fair amount of child stars who fade into relative anonymity once those awkward teenage years hit. Has anyone seen that kid from Jerry Maguire recently? Or what about the pint-sized cutie from Love Actually?
Obscurity, though, is more desirable outcome than the path of the actors on this list. These are child stars who suffered as a result of their early on fame, with varyingly disastrous consequences…
5. Danny Bonaduce- The Partridge Family
Mischievous ginger Danny Bonaduce has the distinction of being the only star on our list who’s still alive. Bonaduce, 54, got his start on the hit TV show, The Partridge Family, which ran from 1970-1974. It depicted the adventures of a family band traveling around in a psychedelic school bus. Bonaduce would reportedly often show up to the set with mysterious bruises on his face (the result of an abusive father) and different cast members took turns taking the young actor home with them on weekends to shield him from further abuse.
After the show ended, Bonaduce did mostly radio work in the 1980s and 1990s, all the while abusing drugs. At one point, he reported he lived in his car. In 1990, he was busted for buying crack cocaine right before he was supposed to make an appearance for the D.A.R.E. anti-drug campaign. In 1991, Bonaduce made headlines when he was arrested for assaulting a transvestite prostitute that he mistakenly thought was a woman. Bonaduce, who has been to rehab three times, has also been married three times – the second time, he tied the knot while on a first blind date. Despite his tumultuous personal life, Bonaduce has not strayed from the limelight, taking part in reality shows like VH1’s Breaking Bonaduce and Hulk Hogan’s Celebrity Championship Wrestling so that the world could witness his fits of hulk-like rage.
4- Gary Coleman- Diff’rent Strokes
Gary Coleman was best known for playing Arnold, the lovable little guy on Diff’rent Strokes, which aired from 1978-86, and for coining the catchphrase, “whatchyoo talkin bout, Willis?” The show chronicled the lives of a rich old white dude who adopted two young black brothers from a disadvantaged background. (The show has not aged well and has been described by modern commentators as somewhat racist.)
Coleman was notable for his short stature and childlike appearance, which was due to the congenital kidney disease from which he suffered, undergoing two kidney transplants and endless rounds of dialysis. At the height of his career, he earned $100,000 an episode on Diff’rent Strokes, but sadly, he didn’t see much of this money. In 1989, Coleman sued his parents and manager for what he claimed was financial mismanagement. And in 1999, he filed for bankruptcy. Coleman also had trouble with the law; he was arrested several times for domestic violence as well as assault and disorderly conduct. He died at age 42 after suffering a brain hemorrhage as a result of a fall.
3- River Phoenix- Stand By Me
River Phoenix was a successful child and teen actor, appearing in movies such as Stand By Me, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Running on Empty (for which he earned an Oscar nomination), and My Own Private Idaho. While he maintained a rather clean cut public image as an activist and vegetarian, Phoenix suffered privately from drug abuse, reportedly taking combinations of cocaine, and heroin. He accidentally overdosed at age 23 while at LA club the Viper Room, which was then owned by his friend, Johnny Depp.
2- Corey Haim- The Lost Boys
Corey Haim, one half of the ‘Coreys’ (the other being fellow 80s heartthrob Corey Feldman), got into acting from an early age, appearing in films like The Lost Boys and License to Drive. On the set of Lucas, he reported, he was molested by an unnamed industry insider who told the young actor that this was how things were done in Hollywood. This horrific abuse continued over the course of several years, and was, according to close friend Feldman, a contributing factor in Haim’s eventual drug problem. Haim went to rehab 15 times to try and resolve his issues with addiction. He ultimately died of pneumonia at age 38.
1. Judy Garland- The Wizard of Oz
Born Frances Gumm, Garland (her mother’s maiden name) first appeared on stage as a baby in a regional theatre production. As a child, she acted onstage and in vaudeville routines until she was signed by MGM as a teenager. At 17, Garland appeared in The Wizard of Oz, captivating the world with her beautiful voice and mournful portrayal of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” She went on to star in other successful films such as Meet me in St. Louis and A Star is Born. Studios infamously placed Garland on a steady diet of pills as a young woman- uppers to keep thin and provide energy and downers in order to sleep. Garland remembered, “That’s the way we worked, and that’s the way we got thin. That’s the way we got mixed up. And that’s the way we lost contact.” In addition to the prescription drug abuse, Garland suffered from depression and anorexia and made a number of suicide attempts before she overdosed on sleeping pills at age 47.
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