Growing up in the public eye is an experience that can only be commented on by very few. Most of us weren’t in the entertainment industry as children, so all we can really do is guess as to what these kids go through as they grow up in the public eye. Any public figure knows how challenging living your life in front of the world can be, but it’s that much more challenging to figure yourself out in front of the world as a kid. While some kids handle this kind of pressure well, or at least as well as can be expected, some other kids really don’t handle it all that well and end up becoming a tragic punch-line.
There are a lot of kids out there who have grown up as child stars, but there are a few that set themselves apart. This is either because they grew up to be stand-up adults who have their lives together, or because they grew up to be absolute train-wrecks and an example of what not to do. Some of these child stars passed into anonymity as adults because of new careers or simply wanting their lives to remain private. Others made a modest living in entertainment as children before becoming superstars as adults.
Regardless of how the people on this list achieved fame, some of them managed to keep it together, while others crashed and burned. Here are eight celebrities who managed to keep their heads above water and eight who became infamous.
16. Kept It Together: Anna Paquin, The Second-Youngest Oscar Winner
Anna Paquin is the second-youngest Academy Award winner in the history of the Oscars, winning at 11. She’s also the first millennial to win if that means anything to anyone. She beat five thousand girls to play Flora McGrath in The Piano, and after that, she became a very successful child actress. As an adult, she went on to star in a lot of different movies and landed a spot in the X-Men as Rogue. Most audiences would recognize her as Sookie Stackhouse from the long-running HBO series True Blood, for which she’s won and been nominated for several awards. She is currently married to actor Stephen Moyer, who played her love interest on the show and with whom she has two children. She could have very well ended up going off the rails as a teenager and adult, but she didn’t. Anna Paquin is a great example of a child star who found mainstream success with little drama or fanfare.
15. Crashed And Burned: Amanda Bynes, From Comedienne To Controversy
Amanda Bynes is a talented actress who has largely been overshadowed by her erratic behavior. She was a child star in the 1990s and early 2000s and started acting at the age of seven. She’s been in stage plays, commercials, and more before she rose to prominence as one of Nickelodeon’s biggest stars. At the age of 13, she starred in The Amanda Show, a sketch comedy show that was basically hers. She then went on to play parts in some very big movies and a long-running television show. She went on an acting hiatus sometime in 2010 and largely disappeared, only to reappear via a DUI in 2012. In 2013, Bynes was detained after she started a small fire in a stranger’s driveway. Things would then get very weird: she did and said some strange things and her mental state would get bad enough for her mom to take conservatorship over her. Nowadays, she’s kept out of the news and she’s announced an impending return to acting, so fingers crossed nothing else weird happens.
14. Kept It Together: The Harry Potter Kids, Down To Earth Witches And Wizards
The Harry Potter franchise created a whole generation of child stars, and while they’re not necessarily all A-listers right now, they all kept out of trouble and most of them are still in acting. Daniel Radcliffe, who played Harry, is acting in stage plays and movies that you wouldn’t think to see him in. Emma Watson, who played Hermione, went to Brown University for awhile, is an activist who’s spoken at the U.N, and went on to star in several big movies, her stint as an actual Disney Princess notwithstanding. Alfred Enoch, who played Dean Thomas, went on to star in How To Get Away With Murder, although you probably didn’t recognize him there considering how much he grew up! Rupert Grint, who played Ron, is acting in some cool projects and is living his dream of running his own ice cream truck. Those are just a few examples! All the kids in the series ended up becoming well-adjusted adults whether they stayed in the entertainment industry or not, which is a pretty rare thing these days.
13. Crashed And Burned (Sort Of): Miley Cyrus, Genuine Cringefest Or Calculated Stunt?
Miley Cyrus has had a very public image shift over the past couple of years, but I’m hesitant in calling her a trainwreck because I’m pretty sure everything she did during the lead up to the release of the Bangerz album was staged in some way. That being said, Miley Cyrus was making the news in a big way back a few years ago. It all started when she chopped off all of her hair in favor of a pixie cut, which in itself isn’t too shocking, but things got weirder. At the 2013 VMAs, she got up on stage with Robin Thicke and delivered a performance that people are still kind of talking about years later because of how cringe it was. As ridiculous as that performance was, it was totally calculated to shed her Hannah Montana image on the exact same day she released “Wrecking Ball,” her first single to top the Hot 100 in her career. She’s also gone on record about her casual drug use. As much as Miley appeared to crash and burn, she didn’t and is probably more successful now because of all this, which is why she’s only sort of a trainwreck.
12. Kept It Together: Christina Applegate, No Drama Here
Christina Applegate has been in the entertainment industry since she was an infant, making her TV debut at three months old. She was pretty well known as a child actor but didn’t get her real big break until she got the part of Kelly Bundy on Married …With Children. She stayed on the show for eleven years while still working on other projects. One of those involved the Pussycat Dolls, of which she is a founding member. She went on to star in major movies like the Anchorman series and win an Emmy for her performance on the show Friends for two episodes. She was even nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in Sweet Charity. Applegate is a great example of a child star who managed to become a fully fledged star as an adult without any controversy. She’s only made the news for her work and philanthropy (and once for her breast cancer fight) and is almost never in the tabloids, making her a child star who kept it together.
11. Crashed And Burned: Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, Former Rivals With A Dark Side
Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera rose to fame around the same time and were always pitted against each other all through their careers and even today to some degree. They have a lot in common: both became pop stars as teenagers thanks to their time on the Mickey Mouse Club, and both had very public “bad girl phases,” for lack of a better term. Christina Aguilera didn’t crash and burn quite the same way that Britney Spears did, but she has been arrested for things like public intoxication and DUIs. Much has been made of her behavior after she separated from her husband, but no incident has been expanded upon quite like her meltdown at Disneyland. Nowadays, she’s doing fine, but she’s not as prolific of a star as she was. As for Britney, she went totally off the rails in 2007, shaving her head to cover up her drug use and getting into a lot of trouble. She’s since been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and undergone treatment and is doing a lot better, her career basically back where it was pre-meltdown.
10. Kept It Together: Mila Kunis, Drama Free From Jackie To Black Swan
Mila Kunis has been acting since she was nine, but before then, she was living in Ukraine. She moved to the U.S. when she was seven. in 1998, she landed the role of Jackie Burkhart in That ’70s Show partly because she lied about her age (she was 14 at the time and was supposed to be 18). After the producers of the show figured it out, they still kept her on because she was the best fit for the part. The next year, she replaced Lacey Chabert in the role of Meg Griffin in Family Guy at the age of fifteen. However, it wasn’t until 2009 when she really became the movie star she is now, taking parts in more dramatic films like Black Swan. Nowadays, she’s married to That ’70s Show costar Ashton Kutcher, with whom she has a daughter named Wyatt. Apart from lying about her age to get a big role, Kunis has really been drama free.
9. Crashed And Burned: Shia LaBeouf, From Just Disney To “Just Do It”
Shia LaBeouf was the star of the Disney Channel show Even Stevens, but before that, he was pursuing acting as a kid to help support his family. He was performing stand-up at comedy clubs at 10 years old with his potty-mouth routine, and that was what got him on the road to Disney. After the show ended, he would go on to star in some major blockbusters like Constantine and the Transformers series. It was around then that things started to go off the rails, though. He would go on to have legal troubles for a few years thanks to run-ins with police over his disorderly conduct and alcoholism. While his run-ins with the law are actually pretty tame compared to some other Disney stars, the reason why Shia LaBeouf is so synonymous with being a trainwreck is that he keeps sort of calling attention to it with his performance art stunts.
8. Kept It Together: Dylan and Cole Sprouse, From Adam Sandler To Their Alma Mater
Dylan and Cole Sprouse have been acting since they were little kids and have the distinction of being called two of the wealthiest child stars alive. They rose to fame playing Julian McGrath in the Adam Sandler movie Big Daddy and would go on to play a lot of roles together. They were part of the Disney Channel crop of child stars in their teens, where they would go on to make five figures per episode of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and The Suite Life on Deck. They had a clothing line, a book series, a magazine, and more in their heyday. After Deck ended in 2011, the twins went to New York University after deferring their admission for a year for the show, and they went on to graduate from the university. After they left college, they would go on to have separate acting careers. Dylan has more movies in his filmography by himself, while Cole has more television appearances, including his role as Jughead on Riverdale.
7. Crashed And Burned: Justin Bieber, From Covers To Controversies
Justin Bieber is probably the first major star to be discovered via YouTube. He rose to fame singing covers before getting discovered by Usher and putting out music that is both impossible to get out of your head and really hard not to have an opinion about. Bieber has established a music career in his adult life and is on some of the biggest songs of the last few years and has been listed four times on Forbes Magazine’s list of the most powerful celebrities in the world. However, he didn’t get there without a lot of controversies, He’s dated a ton of A-listers through his career and has been arrested more than once. He’s been accused of throwing eggs at his neighbors’ homes, driving under the influence, and more. He’s also been accused of racism on several occasions. He’s such a polarizing celebrity that after his DUI arrest, over 270,000 people signed a White House petition to have him deported from the United States. As successful as Bieber is now, he didn’t have to do it by partaking in bad behavior and leaving monkeys in airports.
6. Kept It Together: Hilary Duff, The First Disney Channel Teen Idol
Hilary Duff, apart from a longstanding rivalry with another person who topped this list, hasn’t really dealt with a lot of drama in her career. She quickly became a teen star thanks to her time on the Disney Channel in the show Lizzie McGuire, and after that became a household name with merchandise, a fashion line, and several theatrical releases. In more recent years, she’s been starring in TV-Land shows, writing best-selling novels, and taking part in a lot of charity work. Her personal life was a little bumpy at the beginning of her career as her relationships with Joel Madden and Aaron Carter dominated the press, but other than that, she wasn’t a dramatic star who spent all her time partying or getting arrested. If anything, future Disney stars like Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez would have a role model to look up to in Duff, whose transition to adult fame has been emulated by big corporations like Disney and Nickelodeon and implemented with a lot of teen stars. If you’re wondering why we have so many actor/singer teen stars, Hilary Duff is why.
5. Crashed And Burned: Macaulay Culkin, “The Most Successful Child Star Since Shirley Temple”
Macaulay Culkin rose to fame playing Kevin McCallister in the movie Home Alone and would go on to be considered the most successful child star since the days of Shirley Temple. Unfortunately, he hasn’t found the same level of fame in his adulthood. Sure, he spent a few years as the frontman for a comedy rock band called Pizza Underground, but he’s a long way from being Shirley Temple famous. To be fair to Culkin, he had been retired from acting for a long time so wasn’t really looking for that fame, but he did get himself into some trouble over the years.Back in 2004, he was arrested for drug possession and received three suspended prison sentences for it. He’s also inextricably linked to Michael Jackson and had to speak at his trial. As for his relationships, they’ve been pretty drama free: he spent eight years in a long-term relationship with Mila Kunis and is currently dating Brenda Song, whom he met on a movie set. Here’s hoping we see more of him in the future.
4. Kept It Together: Christy Carlson Romano, Broadway Star Under The Radar
While Christy Carlson Romano was never a star on the same level as say, Hilary Duff, who was a Disney Channel star with her (and her Cadet Kelly co-star), Romano is still very famous and talented in her own right and has managed to become a pretty well-adjusted person. She’s best known for her role playing Ren Stevens on the Disney Channel show Even Stevens and as the title character on the show Kim Possible. However, if you’re a fan of theater, chances are you’ve seen Romano as Mary Phagan in Parade (her first major role) or as Belle in Beauty and the Beast. While she never released an album of her own thanks to a record deal that fell through, you can find her on compilation albums, audiobooks, and for a brief period in the mid-2000s, MySpace shared songs. Romano got married a few years ago and had a baby recently, and has had no weird controversies in her career, making her someone who kept it together.
3. Crashed And Burned: Lindsay Lohan, From Parent Trap To Punchline
Lindsay Lohan is the best and easiest example to cite for a child star who became a trainwreck, and it’s honestly very sad when you think about it because it didn’t have to be that way. She spent a few years acting on soap operas and commercials before getting her big break playing twins in the remake of The Parent Trap. However, what really made her a household name was her role on Mean Girls, a movie that cemented her as a teen icon and launched the careers of several A-listers, including Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, and more. Things were going wonderfully for her until she kept having meltdowns on sets and getting labeled difficult to work with because of her personal life and constant partying. She’s also been arrested for DUIs, drug possession, and more. She spent nearly eight years on some kind of probation before that ended in 2015. Nowadays, she’s acting sporadically and trying to stage a comeback. Before all the drama, Lohan was remarkably talented and an actual bankable movie star, but now she’s sort of a punch line.
2. Kept It Together (Sort Of): Drew Barrymore, From Pre-Teen Party Girl To Put-Together Starlet
Drew Barrymore was synonymous with the idea of being a trainwreck, but we think that that reputation is unfounded. She’s been through a lot, but she’s emerged from the other side of child stardom a very grounded person, and we don’t think that a messed up childhood automatically would make her a trainwreck. Because she became a star so suddenly and is part of an acting dynasty that includes some of the most famous actors of their eras, she grew up way too fast. She was a regular at Studio 54 as a young kid, started smoking cigarettes at the age of nine, and was doing hard drugs by thirteen. At 14, she ended up in rehab, and by 15, she was emancipated and living on her own. After a series of critical blunders, she found her way again and would go on to become a major movie star. As much as her childhood was tumultuous, she’s a classy lady who is known for her career now and not for her personal life.
1. Crashed And Burned: Tatum O’Neal, The Youngest Oscar Winner
Anna Paquin is the second-youngest actress to win an acting Oscar, but Tatum O’Neal is the youngest. She won her Oscar for playing Addie Loggins in Paper Moon opposite her dad, Ryan O’Neal. Apart from her film career, she’s well known for being the first love of Michael Jackson and the ex-wife of tennis star John McEnroe, with whom she has three children. Tatum O’Neal would go on to act sporadically throughout her life while dealing with her ongoing drug addiction. After her divorce, she would end up falling off the wagon, becoming addicted to heroin and losing custody of her kids. In 2008, she was arrested for buying crack cocaine near her apartment building and spent time in a drug treatment program. She’s written several books in which she alleges a lot of things, including experiencing abuse at the hands of her father and his drug dealer. She went on to star in a reality series with her dad to try and fix their relationship.
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