It's not easy to be young, rich and famous. Just ask any former child star.
"Any kid can screw up. But if you have money and fame and no privacy, you can really, really screw up," says Corey Feldmen, who first got noticed in the mid-1980s, when Steven Spielberg cast him in Gremlins and The Goonies.
At 14, Feldman vaulted to the upper echelons of child stardom in Rob Reiner's coming-of-age classic, Stand by Me. But just three years later, he struggled with addiction and a string of heroin-related charges.
Feldman isn't whining about being a former child star. He's singing about it — on his new album. It's called — you guessed it — Former Child Actor. And guess who he's getting to help him promote it?
The invitations have gone out to a veritable dream team of former teen stars — including Barry "Brady Bunch" Williams, Danny "Partridge Family" Bonaduce, Todd "Diff'rent Strokes" Bridges and perennial Tiger Beat cover boy Leif Garrett.
They'll meet Sept. 18 at Tower Records in Hollywood and sing the title song of Feldman's new album. Perhaps when they're done they can do an all-former-star version of "We Are the World."
"Wouldn't it be like a scene straight out of a David Lych movie?" says Feldman.
The Diff’rent Strokes Syndrome
Are child stars destined to lead unhappy lives? Some call it the Diff'rent Strokes syndrome, and certainly Gary Coleman, Dana Plato and Todd Bridges are shining examples of kids who just had a miserable time growing up in public.
Plato had several brushes with the law before she committed suicide in 1999, overdosing on drugs at the age of 34.
Bridges also struggled with chemical dependency and has been arrested several times. In 1990, he was acquitted after being accused of shooting a crack dealer.
Coleman, now 34, earned an estimated $18 million as the star of that top-rated sitcom, but had been reduced to working as a $7-an-hour movie set security guard a few years ago. Like other former child stars, he blamed his parents for squandering his fortune — and he reached adulthood alone and unemployed.
After a widely publicized fistfight with an autograph-seeking fan, Coleman was fined $400. He failed to come up with the money and soon after declared bankruptcy. A Web site later held an auction of his personal items, selling his size-4 ½ bowling shoes ($107.50), Afro picks ($61) and spatula ($41) to keep him financially afloat.
But Joal Ryan, author of Former Child Stars: The Story of America's Least Wanted (ECW Press), says child stars are no different than anyone else. "If you take the word 'star' out of the equation, you will see that these child stars are just like most other children," she says.
"There are so many child stars living normal, happy lives," she says. "How come you don't hear about them? Because it's not news when someone doesn't screw up."
In 1997, about the same time Coleman was struggling as a security guard, Emmanuel Lewis — another diminutive young actor — was graduating from Clark Atlanta University with a theater-arts degree.
Lewis has kept a low profile since Webster wrapped in 1987, a far cry from the mid-1980s, when he took the stage at the American Music Awards as Michael Jackson's newest sidekick.
Anybody can screw up. Especially when they are young. Hollywood kids, like other kids, sometimes grow out of that troubled phase.