As Dickie Roberts will waste no time in telling his once adoring fans, the transition from child star into adulthood can occasionally be a pretty rough one. Quite frankly, this should be no surprise, considering that few children are capable of withstanding the fame, fortune, and outrageous pressure that goes with it completely free of negative impact. No matter how good a given kid is at the acting part of the job, being a public figure is extremely difficult for an undeveloped mind, as is having boatloads of money and not knowing exactly what to do with it.
Of course, merely having been a child star is far from a death sentence to a young career. Plenty of famous actors, actresses, and musicians shot to fame while their age was still in the single digits and somehow remained famous until well into adulthood. Granted, a few of them experienced missteps around the way, not entirely free of the drug and alcohol problems that are largely associated with child stardom. However, the point is, they overcame it and remained socially relevant into adulthood, either by doing the same thing they did as kids or evolving in some way to become more well-rounded performers.
On the other hand, so many child stars have indeed fallen into hard times, that it might be advised to keep your own children away from Hollywood unless, or until, they decide to try out show business themselves. Even if everything turns out okay, almost half the time, the bad stories should be more than enough to scare any parent of a would-be star away from the movie business for a long time. Keep reading to learn about 8 child stars who hit rock bottom and 7 who found fame again as adults.
15 Rock Bottom: Edward Furlong
Shortly after he turned 13, Edward Furlong earned his first ever professional role as an actor, and with just that one film, he suddenly became one of the biggest stars in America. This is because that one role happened to be John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a film that went on to earn over half of a billion dollars at the box office. From there, Furlong proved he could actually act in the more serious movie, American Heart, and seemed to be transitioning into adulthood reasonably well with roles critically acclaimed in Pecker and American History X as he reached his early 20s. It all started going downhill around the time Furlong turned 22, at which point he delved heavily into alcoholism and addiction to some serious drugs, including heroin and cocaine. Though he’s gone to rehab on several occasions, Furlong has been arrested at least twice for drug related offenses. Too bad his robot friend from the movies can’t terminate his problems with addiction.
14 Stayed Famous: Neil Patrick Harris
No matter how famous Neil Patrick Harris becomes for being an all-around charming fellow, to many fans around the world, he’ll always be the Doog. Technically, Doogie Howser, M.D. wasn’t Harris’s first major role, as he had actually already earned a Golden Globe nomination for his work in Clara’s Heart. However, his four years on television as the youngest doctor in the world made a serious impact on fans that the adult actor has had trouble shaking. On the plus side, Harris has at least been able to shake most of the downfalls associated with child stardom, never experiencing any serious problems with drugs or the law like so many others on this list. Harris was 16 when he first donned the lab coat, and the show ended right around when he turned 20. For the next 15 years, Harris kept a very low profile, only to suddenly revive his career in a major way with How I Met Your Mother. Since earning newfound fame as Barney Stinson, Harris has continued to achieve great success with Hollywood in general.
13 Rock Bottom: Taran Noah Smith
Poor little Mark Taylor was always the most forgettable child on Home Improvement, even after he started dressing in all black and serving as one of TV’s most visible Goths during the show’s later seasons. Perhaps this is part of the reason actor Taran Noah Smith fared the worst out of the three child stars who spent nine years co-starring with Tim Allen and Patricia Richardson. Granted, neither Zachery Ty Bryan nor Jonathan Taylor Thomas went on to become particularly huge stars, but at least they were free from the bad feelings and negativity that Smith has expressed in regards to his time in the spotlight. Immediately after Home Improvement ended, Smith quit the acting business because he felt it wasn’t for him, which would have been fine if he went on to do something better with his life. Instead, he controversially married a much older woman and apparently lived a very questionable life with her, eventually losing their house to the bank. Five years later, he was convicted of a DUI and drug possession.
12 Stayed Famous: Drew Barrymore
For a long time in the 1990s, it almost looked like Drew Barrymore could end up on the other half of this list, but there was one key difference between her various public meltdowns and the usual kind. By hook or by crook, attending rehab as a teenager, appearing in public looking high out of her mind, and flashing David Letterman on live television barely affected Barrymore’s career on the screen. Her star shone through it all. Born into Hollywood royalty as the granddaughter of legendary actor John Barrymore, Drew started acting before she was a year old and got her first big break at the age of 6 with E.T. The drug problems started almost immediately after that, with her first trip to rehab taking place before she was a teenager. Still, she remained famous and continued appearing in successful films throughout it all, and seemed to have beaten the worst of her drug problems by her mid 20s. Today, Barrymore remains a high-profile Hollywood actress and stars in the Netflix series Santa Clarita Diet.
11 Rock Bottom: Brian Bonsall
To many fans of the 1980s sitcom Family Ties, the introduction of Andy Keaton, portrayed by 5-year-old Brian Bonsall, was the show hitting rock bottom, so it’s only apropos the poor kid would do the same some twenty years later. After playing the annoyingly cute youngest Keaton, Bonsall earned another childhood role as Alexander Rozhenko on Star Trek: The Next Generation, which he played from ages 11 to 13. Bonsall was also appearing in a handful of films around this stage in his life, including Blank Check and the controversial horror film Mikey. Bonsall retired from acting at the young age of 14 and has since focused on a music career that has been nowhere near as successful as his childhood TV career. Far worse than the fact his bands aren’t successful is that Bonsall has also been found guilty of assaulting his ex-girlfriend, a charge he made worse by failing to appear in court when his trial began. To make matters worse, as Bonsall smoked marijuana while on probation due to those earlier charges and violated the terms of his release.
10 Stayed Famous: Fred Savage
At the age of 11, Fred Savage laid in a bed and listened to Peter Falk tell him one of the greatest stories film has ever told, experiencing the joys and wonders of The Princess Bride as a stand-in for the audience. The next year, his boyish sense of wonder was taken to the literal extent with a starring role in The Wonder Years, a family sitcom Savage would go on to star in for the next six years. Savage was in some ways a prodigious comedic acting talent, becoming the youngest star ever nominated for the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy (though he didn’t win). Savage’s career on the screen faded out as he reached his teens, but he soon became the rare child star to transition behind the scenes. Fans of little Kevin Arnold may not even realize he’s become quite the prolific television director, calling the shots for episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Party Down, 2 Broke Girls, and Modern Family. Savage occasionally steps in front of the camera as well, appearing in major roles on The Grinder and Friends From College.
9 Rock Bottom: Aaron Carter
As the younger brother of a Backstreet Boy, it’s easy to imagine that Aaron Carter wanted to follow in Nick Carter’s footsteps and become a pop singer himself. Soon enough, it even looked like Aaron’s parties might be more famous than Nick’s, with the comedy rap pop songs he released in the year 2000 becoming huge hits with kids around his age, that being 12. While Carter continued releasing music since then, none of his several albums or singles have come anywhere near that early-childhood success. His last full album was released in 2002, at age 14, and since then, Carter attempted to start a film career while also running “comeback tours” to little fanfare. The lack of steady work ultimately caused Carter to find himself massively in debt, somewhere to the tune of $3.5 million. That wasn’t all, as he also had a huge bill with the IRS, also over $1 million. On top of the financial troubles, he’s also been arrested on numerous drug charges as recently as 2017, showing the hangover from Aaron’s party still isn’t over.
8 Stayed Famous: Rose Marie
Younger people reading this list probably have no idea who Rose Marie is, and even those who remember her might forget she started off as a child star. Even so, her influence on women in Hollywood is still evident to this day, and we’re not just talking about the fact she was the first celebrity to earn fame without a last name. This is in part because Rose Marie already had three names when she started gaining famous, appearing on her own NBC radio program as Baby Rose Marie before she was even 10 years old. At that time, Marie was mostly a jazz singer, but later in life, it became apparent her true talent was comedy. Two decades after her stint as a child music star, Rose Marie decided to get into the acting business. In her 30s, she nabbed her greatest role as Sally Rogers, a wise cracking writer on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Marie continued appearing in sitcoms and comedic films at a gradually diminishing rate until her retirement in the 1990s, by which point she was in her early 70s, way beyond the average shelf life for a former child star.
7 Rock Bottom: Lindsay Lohan
Truth be told, the career trajectory of Lindsay Lohan has been such a roller coaster, that it’s entirely possible she’ll find herself on the other half of this list before it’s all said and done. Having appeared in soap operas since she was 10 years old, Lohan first came to international fame with The Parent Trap. In her late teens, Lohan had back-to-back starring roles in Freaky Friday and Mean Girls, which inevitably made her a bona fide star in Hollywood. A concurrent music career wasn’t going quite as well, but star roles kept coming, until shortly after Lohan turned 21 and her life quickly went off the rails. A number of DUIs and subsequent drug arrests lead to an 8-year stint on legal probation, which didn’t end until she was almost 30. Lohan has also experienced some high profile drama with her family, who seem to share some of her drug related issues. She currently seems to be living a sober life and perhaps ripe for a comeback, but whether it will be a return to the silver screen or to skid row has yet to be determined.
6 Stayed Famous: Shirley Temple
The modern entertainment world will probably never see another sensation like Shirley Temple, who was easily the most popular actress in Hollywood by the time she was a mere 7-year-old girl. Coming to fame during the great depression, Temple’s optimistic and simplistic movies brought hope to a very disheartened America, her cherubic face wide-eyed innocence more powerful to crowds than anything an adult actor could possibly do on screen. Unfortunately, this meant that by the time Temple was a teenager, her appeal had harshly diminished, and she retired from film entirely by the age of 22. Later in life, Temple shifted to a career in politics, serving as a diplomat who represented the United States in front of the United Nations shortly after she turned 41. From there, Temple also served as a US diplomat to Ghana under President Gerald Ford, and then to Czechoslovakia under President Bush, Sr. In between, she was also briefly Ford’s Chief of Protocol, making her the first female to hold the role. Though not as high profile as her box office success, Temple likely found this work just as satisfying.
5 Rock Bottom: Macaulay Culkin
The only thing faster than Macaulay Culkin’s meteoric rise to fame was how quickly it all started to fade away. Out of nowhere, Culkin became one of the biggest movie stars in the world by starring in Home Alone, naturally followed by equal success with Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Culkin’s only other notable acting role had been Uncle Buck, which was also quite popular, but still couldn’t have predicted his fame. After two stints as Kevin McAllister, Culkin had one more hit left in the film My Girl, after which his prospects rapidly began to plummet. There were continued roles in The Pagemaster, The Good Son, and Getting Even with Dad, yet these films were all huge bombs, critically and financially, proving Culkin’s star had already disappeared. Now in his mid 30s, Culkin is mostly known for his gaunt appearance and multiple drug arrests, though he denies the worst rumours about him are true. That may be so, but it’s clear he plummeted from fame into obscurity either way.
4 Stayed Famous: Stevie Wonder
Of all the names on this list, it could probably be argued that Stevie Wonder was able to transition from child star to adult legend with the least difficulty. Truth be told, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn half the people reading this article had no idea he was even a child star when his career began, but the mere fact that his first few records were released under the name “Little Stevie Wonder” should prove he did. Wonder signed with Motown Records when he was only 11 years old, and achieved his first number-one single with “Fingertips” the same month he turned 13, to this day making him the youngest solo musician to ever top the charts. The hits kept coming as Stevie got older, with the only real difference in his creative output being that he dropped the “Little” part of his name around the release of his third album. From there, Stevie just got bigger and bigger, with many critics feeling the albums he released in his 20s are amongst the greatest ever made. Though his creative output has sagged in recent decades, Wonder remains a national treasure into his late 60s, something very few former child stars can boast.
3 Rock Bottom: Corey Haim
Terrible as life may have become for some of the former child stars on this half of the list, at least most of them somehow survived the madness and lived to tell the tale. Not so for Corey Haim, once a teen idol in the 1980s, who passed away due to pneumonia in 2010 at the age of 38. Though drugs were not an official factor in his death, it can’t be ignored that Haim was battling with a very public addiction to prescription painkillers in the month leading to his fatal diagnosis, which certainly weakened his immune system. Backing up a bit, Haim rose to fame around the age of 13, earning critical and commercial acclaim for roles in Firstborn and Lucas. From there, he became one half of The Coreys with Corey Feldman, a duo achieving wild fame amongst teenage girls for their come-of-age films. The success ended in the early '90s as the Coreys reached their 20s, with fans no longer interested after they lost their boyish charm. This is where Haim’s drug and personal problems began, not stopping until his eventual death.
2 Stayed Famous: Michael Jackson
All right, so there were more than a few major scandals that everyone with a TV knows all about which could arguably place Michael Jackson on the other half of this list. On the other hand, the dude was also Michael Jackson. Just after his 11th birthday, Jacko became one of the most famous people in America by singing “I Want You Back” with his brothers in the Jackson 5, and by the time he was in his early 20s, he was without question the biggest star in the entire world. Similar to Stevie Wonder, Jackson’s transition from child to adult was pretty fluid, especially in comparison to the multiple, much larger changes he would go through later in his life. However, no matter what weirdness Jackson was up to in his personal life, his star never once stopped shining. His most popular album, and indeed the most popular/highest selling album of all time, Thriller, was released at the age of 24, and though he obviously never eclipsed that accolade, his later records all sold tens of millions of copies, as well, all of which made Jackson a cultural icon well beyond his death.
1 Rock Bottom: Amanda Bynes
Every kid who grew up in the 1990s surely remembers All That, the teen-aimed sketch show that softened the sensibilities of Saturday Night Live for a younger generation. In season three, the show introduced one of its most popular members in the 10-year-old Amanda Bynes, who soon proved so popular she earned her own spin-off called The Amanda Show at age 13. As she entered young adulthood, Bynes continued to flourish with a more adult sitcom called What I Like About You and films like Big Fat Liar, She’s the Man, and Easy A, yet the fame and fortune came to a dramatic halt when she suddenly went on hiatus in 2010. Since then, Bynes has seemingly spent all of her time doing every drug on the planet and redefining the term train wreck, all while making the time to appear in public looking like an absolute mess. Recently, Bynes claimed she was getting ready for a comeback, and anything is possible in Hollywood. But unless she puts down the pipe first, it probably isn’t going to happen.
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