Tatum O'Neal Responds to McEnroe 'Tell-All'

ByABC News
June 26, 2002, 5:57 PM

Sept. 4, 2004 -- Tatum O'Neal reached the height of Hollywood at the age of 10. By the time she was 20, she had hit the pit of despair and drug abuse. Now 40, she's responding to a scathing autobiography recently released by her ex-husband, John McEnroe, saying she wants to refute lies in McEnroe's book and claiming that the tennis great used steroids.

This story was originally broadcast on 20/20 June 28, 2002.

At the tender age of 10, Tatum O'Neal stamped her place in movie history with her portrayal of a con man's precocious sidekick in the 1973 film Paper Moon.

Playing opposite her father, Ryan O'Neal, the young actress stole every scene. The performance earned her an Oscar for best supporting actress, making her the youngest actor ever to win an Academy Award.

Sadly, this early success was the pinnacle of her career. Although she enjoyed moderate success in such films as Bad News Bears and Little Darlings, O'Neal never recaptured the critical or popular acclaim she enjoyed in her debut.

A Youth of Instability

While her childhood will always be tied to the extraordinary success of winning an Oscar, it was also a time of enormous personal upheaval.

O'Neal says she and her brother were raised in squalor in Reseda, Calif., by their mother, Joanna Moore, an actress battling drug addiction.

When she was just 7, her father took over and began to raise her and her brother. At the time, Ryan O'Neal was at the height of his career, and raising a young daughter and son didn't fit in easily with his Hollywood lifestyle.

O'Neal describes her father as "the most charming, funny, incredible guy you'll ever meet," but adds that he could also be violent and physically abusive with her and her brother.

Still, O'Neal said she needed her dad to fill the role of both mother and father. This, O'Neal said, "was just more than he could probably handle." She added, "I mean I was just not allowing him to have a girlfriend and by the way, I mean it wasn't a girlfriend, it was a thousand girls."

A Hollywood Adolescence

Through her adolescence, O'Neal was known as a Hollywood brat. It was the 1970s, and in Hollywood that meant wild times and drugs.

Feeling overweight and depressed, she turned to cocaine when she was just 15 years old. O'Neal said her dad told her the drug would help her lose weight. Quickly though, O'Neal was addicted and her self-esteem plunged further still. "I felt like I was worth nothing," she said.

While her relationship with her father was volatile, it was the only stable parental relationship in her life.

Then her father began dating Farrah Fawcett, one of the era's biggest sex symbols. When the couple decided to live together, O'Neal said, she was left behind to raise her 14-year-old brother alone.