Just because you were a child star doesn't mean you're screwed up.
Everybody talks about the so-called Diff'rent Strokes Syndrome — and certainly the kids from that show have had their problems. But how then do you explain Oscar-winning director Ron Howard? Once known as Opie on The Andy Griffith Show, Howard is about as successful and scandal-free as anyone in Hollywood.
And while Drew Barrymore and Danny Bonaduce have both had their tabloid moments, Barrymore's star has been rising dramatically since the 1995 release of Boys on the Side. She earned a cool $14 million this summer for Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle.
Bonaduce recounted the troubled years following his run as the redheaded, loudmouthed kid on The Partridge Family in his 2001 memoir Random Acts of Badness. Highlights included his 1991 arrest in Phoenix for beating up a prostitute after discovering he had taken home a transvestite.
But Bonaduce has had a successful run on the NBC morning talk show The Other Half. Although it's coming to an end, he continues to be a star on Los Angeles radio, with a popular drive-time show.
Now, Bonaduce joins Barry (Brady Bunch) Williams, former teenybopper idol Leif Garrett, and Corey Feldman, along with countless other eternally familiar, now-wizened faces in David Spade's Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, in theaters today.
What's the ultimate low for a teenage star? Becoming a drunken 35-year-old parking lot attendant with no money and no future? Competing in a celebrity boxing match and getting the tar beaten out of you by Emmanuel Lewis, the still-pint-size former star of Webster? A Fun Way to Lose Hair
Spade plays a former child star who, once a household name, will try anything to revive his career, but only manages to sink to new lows. It's a pattern that's not all that unfamiliar.
"I remember how the day the show [The Partridge Family] aired, my mom and I walked outside and there were 300 people on the lawn," Bonaduce says. "Another time, during a parade, a fan pulled a chunk out of my hair, and I'm thinking, 'Cool! [I get to be in a parade while] other kids are going to the sixth grade this morning!' "
Bonaduce takes pride in revisiting his early career, as do many of the others who pop up at the end of Dickie Roberts for a hilarious "We are the World"-type spoof sing-along, written by Garrett. The scene features a cast of now very available former superstars 3 even California gubernatorial candidate Gary Coleman.
With Coleman's return to the public eye, it might be time to reconsider the whole notion of the Diff'rent Strokes Syndrome. Child stars often sink into oblivion. Some are completely ruined. Others maintain a career, even if it's somewhat diminished. And others manage to create a life outside show business.
That's even true for the Diff'rent Strokes gang. Coleman earned an estimated $18 million for his work on that sitcom. Now 35 years old, he's been perpetually near-broke and out of work for years. He was working as a security guard when he entered the California campaign and, once again, became omnipresent on TV.
That's hardly a comeback. But Coleman's doing much better than he was a few years ago, when he was forced to auction off personal items, selling his size 4 ½ bowling shoes ($107.50), Afro pick ($61) and spatula ($41) to keep him financially afloat.
The Gary Coleman Renaissance
For years, Coleman was locked in a legal battle with his parents. When a court finally dissolved his trust fund, his parents' share was worth $770,000, while Coleman himself had only $220,000. The liver ailment that stunted the 4-foot-8-inch star sucked away much of his money and in 1993, he revealed on Geraldo that he attempted suicide twice with sleeping pills.
The ultimate low came after a widely publicized fist fight with an autograph-seeking fan, when Coleman was fined $400. He failed to come up with the money and soon after declared bankruptcy. (The $3,500 fee for filing as a gubernatorial candidate was paid by an an alternative newspaper in San Francisco.)
But Coleman is doing much better now, and so is his TV brother Todd Bridges, who struggled with chemical dependency and had several brushes with the law. In 1990, he was acquitted after being accused of shooting a crack dealer.
Bridges, 38, has been appearing in soap operas and TV movies. He's married with a child and played a drug dealer in the TV docudrama After Diff'rent Strokes: When the Laughter Stopped, wherein he sold crack to his on-screen persona.
Last year, he took on vintage rapper Vanilla Ice on Fox's Celebrity Boxing and won.
Bridges even turned into a real-life hero. Last April, he and his brother were fishing in a lake in Encino, Calif., when a woman in a wheelchair rolled into the water. The Bridges brothers jumped in and rescued her.
But Coleman's TV sister, Dana Plato, represents the saddest side of child fame. After a series of low-budget, straight-to-video movies, she found herself unemployed and in trouble with the law. In 1991, she was arrested for robbing a video store in Las Vegas and placed on probation. She was arrested again the following year for forging a prescription for Valium.
In May 1999, Plato announced on Howard Stern's radio show that she was mounting a comeback. Days later, she died from an overdose of a painkiller called Loritab. A coroner's inquest ruled her death a suicide. She was 34 years old.
Indeed, other child actors have lead nightmarish lives. But they shouldn't overshadow those who straighten themselves out. Even Dickie Roberts has a happy ending.
Perhaps that's why so many former child stars show up in Spade's film. Or perhaps, like Dickie, any chance to step before a camera, no matter how embarrassing, is acceptable.
Up and Down With Hollywood Tykes
Here's a look at some of the highs and lows of Hollywood's biggest child stars.
Macaulay Culkin Highlight: Culkin was considered the most powerful child star since Shirley Temple. His adorable screaming in 1990's Home Alone catapulted him to the top of Hollywood's A-list. A few years later, he was earning $8 million a picture, more than Richard Gere. Low Point: Battling with his parents over his estate — once estimated at more than $50 million — he became a surly teen. As the highest-paid 10-year-old in Hollywood history, he told reporters, "I don't even get an allowance." Gossip pages recounted stories of public drunkenness. He sued his father and once told New York magazine that Michael Jackson's Neverland ranch was "the only place on earth where I feel absolutely, 100 percent comfortable." Recently: Culkin, now 23, took to the London stage last year and received good reviews in Madame Melville, in which he played a 15-year-old American schoolboy in 1960s Paris who is seduced by his 30-year-old literature teacher. He will soon appear in the independent film Party Monster, his first movie in nearly a decade.
Barry Williams Highlight: As Greg Brady on The Brady Bunch, he was the groovy oldest brother. Low Point: Williams worked consistently in regional theater, starring in minor productions of Pippin, West Side Story, and Oklahoma, but could never shake his squeaky-clean Brady image no matter what he tried. At one point, he even auditioned to play serial killer Ted Bundy, but the film was never made. Recently: In Celebrity Boxing, Bonaduce beat him mercilessly. Williams, 48, is featured in Dickie Roberts and appears in a Peter Gabriel-produced video spoofing Eminem entitled The Real Greg Brady.
Leif Garrett Highlight: Perennial coverboy of Tiger Beat magazine in the 1970s. Low Point: Success as a disco singer was brief. In 1979, he was high on Quaaludes when he crashed his Porsche. His best friend, Roland Winker, was left paralyzed. Recently: He leads the child actor sing-along in Dickie Roberts, and recently dropped out of F8, a hard-rock band.
Corey Feldman Highlight: At 14, Feldman had appeared in Steven Spielberg's Gremlins and The Goonies and vaulted to the upper echelons of child stardom in Rob Reiner's coming-of-age classic, Stand by Me. Low Point: At 17, he struggled with addiction and a string of heroin-related charges. His movie career crashed with such films as Meatballs 4. Recently: Feldman, 32, had a major falling out with his childhood friend Michael Jackson in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Feldman, who had come to New York to attend Jackson's 30th anniversary concert, claims Jackson tried to kick him off the bus the singer had rented to get out of the city, while sending limousines to pick up pals Marlon Brando and Liza Minnelli. Feldman turned the incident into a song called "Megaloman," in which he sings, "I believed in your words/I believed in your lies/But in September in New York/You left me to die."
Anissa Jones Highlight: As the pigtailed darling "Buffy" on Family Affair, she was the cutest thing on TV for about six years beginning in 1966. Low Point: She turned to drugs as a teenager, and shuttled between hre mother and father. She died of an overdose of Quaaludes and barbiturates in 1976 at age 18. Her ashes were cast upon the Pacific Ocean.
Rusty Hamer Highlight: For 12 years, he played Danny Thomas' bratty son Rusty on The Danny Thomas Show (also known as Make Room for Daddy) — one of the longest-running TV shows of its era. Low Point: When the show ended in 1965, Hamer's career fizzled. He left Hollywood and battled with depression and alcoholism. He shot himself in the head and died at 42.
Mackenzie Phillips Highlight: Arrived in 1973 with her role in American Graffiti. She then landed a prominent role in the sitcom One Day at a Time. Low Point: Arrested in the show's third season for cocaine possession, she left the series and returned several times. She fell asleep during rehearsals, refused to take drug tests, and reportedly appeared incoherent at points. Recently: Now 42, she's advocating sobriety and has toured with her father's group, The Mamas and the Papas. She later co-starred on the Disney Channel series So Weird.
Drew Barrymore Highlight: At 7, she rocketed to fame as Gertie in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Low Point: Entered a rehab clinic at the age of 13 to fight drug and alcohol abuse. In one episode, she swiped her mother's credit card and hopped a plane to the West Coast with the intention of continuing on to Hawaii. She was apprehended by private investigators in Los Angeles and led back to rehab in handcuffs. On the road to recovery, she portrayed Amy Fisher in a TV movie. Recently: At 28, she's now one of the highest-paid actresses in Hollywood. She divorced her second husband, Tom Green, last year and is currently dating Fabrizio Moretti, who drums with rockers The Strokes.
Adam Rich Highlight: Rich played Nicholas Bradford, the cherubic youngest child on ABC's Eight Is Enough, for four years beginning in 1977. Low Point: TV dad Dick Van Patten bailed him out of jail in 1991, after he was arrested for allegedly smashing a pharmacy window to steal drugs. Rich was arrested soon after for shoplifting and pleaded no contest to both charges. He battled alcohol and substance abuse. In 1996, he participated in a hoax to fake his own death in Might. He later said he did it to satirize the media capitalizing on celebrity funerals. Recently: In December 2002, he was arrested after he drove onto a closed portion of Interstate 10 and nearly struck a California Highway Patrol car. He was booked for allegedly for driving under the influence of an illegal substance and his case is now in the courts. He is now 34.
Willie Aames Highlight: Tommy Bradford on Eight is Enough. Low Point: Playing guitar in a male strip joint. Recently: After reading the John Belushi biography Wired, Aames says he gave up drugs and devoted his life to God. He's now 43 and lives near Kansas City with his wife and daughter. He recently starred in a series of Bibleman videotapes, donning a cape and sword to fight evil and teach kids about Christianity.