Under Radar, Andrew McCarthy Beats Bottle

Ever since a group of hot, young actors in the 1980s were dubbed "the brat pack" and made movie millions celebrating teen angst, there has been no shortage of tabloid headlines: There was the Rob Lowe sex tape, Demi Moore's well-publicized love spats and gossip about drug use and rehab.

Then, there was baby-faced Andrew McCarthy. He was the sensitive, vulnerable one on screen, and — at least based on the absence of tabloid fodder — seemed to be a choir boy off screen.

He was only a sophomore at New York University when cast in his first movie, Class, playing Rob Lowe's prep school roommate who ends up being seduced by an older woman. 1986's Pretty in Pink, co-starring Molly Ringwald, certified him as a leading man, box-office golden boy and heartthrob for smart girls.

But what no one knew — not his co-stars, not the tabloids, not even McCarthy himself — was that behind the scenes, the young star was quietly becoming an alcoholic.

"If I was frightened, it gave me good Dutch courage," says McCarthy, now recovered and starring in the ABC series Kingdom Hospital. "I felt confident and sexy and in charge and in control and powerful — none of those things I felt in my life."

‘I Was So Hung Over’

He says he took his first drink at age 12 or 13, long before he started acting. Years later, in his early success, he found he was able to booze it up at night and still hit his lines just right in the morning, even getting praise along the way.

In Pretty in Pink, for example … people said, 'Oh he's so sensitive and lovely,' " McCarthy tells ABCNEWS' 20/20. "I was so hung over for that whole movie … I'm thinking 'God, I got a headache. I am just dying here. I got to go lay down.' But on film, it came across a certain way."

After a night of heavy drinking, McCarthy says he barely got through one scene in Pretty in Pink in which he gazed hazily at Ringwald in a record store.

"If the movies make money, then people don't really care," McCarthy says of the general attitude at the time. "It was the '80s … and there were people doing a lot worse than me … as long as you sort of deliver."

Mark Carliner, who produced McCarthy's second movie, Heaven Help Us, says he cast the teen actor as a school boy who stands up to a bullying priest because, "He had that kind of wonderful mischievousness in his eyes, and there was also a kind of sense of authority about Andrew, and a slight edge."

Carliner was aware McCarthy was drinking with his co-stars and crew.

"It wasn't as if he missed work, or wasn't as if it was carried on the set," Carliner says. "But I just knew that there was some heavy drinking that was going on."

In retrospect, Carliner acknowledges what McCarthy was soon to find out: His drinking was a double-edged sword.

"He was clearly on the edge of trouble," Carliner says. "I could see that was part of the reason that he was so appealing in that role — because there was a sense of danger about Andrew."

But as the movies got bigger, McCarthy says off screen he grew "overwhelmed" and "terrified."

"I wouldn't wish success like that … on anyone under 30, I think," McCarthy adds. "Fame is very seductive and intoxicating. … Everyone says, 'Yes,' and everyone gives you what you want. … I think most people in their 20s are trying to work out who the hell they are."

Drinking ‘With My Buddies’

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