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43 Tragic Facts About Child Stars

Christine Tran

Show business is hard on everybody—but it can be especially tough when you’re making movies (and sometimes big bucks) before you can even vote. Some kiddie stars survive with their own careers and self-esteem intact. Others are less lucky. From the scandalous to the just plain sad, here are 43 wild facts to put the spotlight on child stars and the dark side of the industry they work in.


43. Legal Acts of Love

The California Child Actor’s Bill safeguards a portion of a child actor’s earning into a trust, which matures when the actor themselves reaches adulthood. The law specifies that 15% of a child actor’s earning be set aside in this trust, and that it remains outside of the parent’s control. This account is often called a “Coogan Account” and the bill itself is the “Coogan Act,” named after Jackie Coogan—the 1920s child star whose parents squandered most of his earnings.

42. Diff’rent Opinions About Fiscal Responsibility

In 1989, Gary Coleman, the child star of Diff’rent Strokes, sued his adoptive parents and former business advisor for $3.8 million, citing misappropriation of his trust fund. After years of legal battles, he won just $1.28 million in 1993. Coleman’s personal problems continued into his adult life, and he was also plagued by health issues. He claims to have attempted suicide twice, and was arrested for violent altercations on more than one occasion, before his untimely death at the age of 42.

41. It’s Always Savage in Hollywood

Fred Savage played Kevin Arnold on ABC’s acclaimed series The Wonder Years and also appeared in the ‘80s classic The Princess Bride. He’s moved on from kiddie credits in front of the camera to some adult fare behind the camera. Notably, Savage has directed multiple episodes of the FXX’s dark comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

40. A Tragic Exit

Most of us will recognize Matthew Garber as little Michael Banks from 1964’s Mary Poppins. Unfortunately, the actor died of pancreatitis after taking a trip to India and contracting hepatitis at the tender age of 21.

39. Rogue Gets the Gold

Before she went “Rogue” in the X-Men movies, Anna Paquin became the second youngest actor to win an Oscar for The Piano at the age of 11 years old. Presumably, she was shielded from the more adult content in the film during filming, but she impressively still managed to grasp the plot and turn in an award-worthy performance.

38. Ugly Court Battles 101

If you’re certain age, you might remember that Nickelodeon’s Zoey 101 became awkward when its star, Jamie Lynn Spears, became pregnant in 2007. What’s less talked about is how her boyfriend at the time, Casey Aldridge, faced legal repercussions because he was about 18 while Spears was 16. He narrowly avoided statutory rape charges but did plead guilty to a misdemeanor; Aldridge did not reside in California where the show was shooting at the time, and he was just less than two years older than Spears, narrowly missing the legal cut off.

37. For Whom the Bell Tolls

Drake Bell made it big as the co-star of Nickelodeon’s Drake and Josh. However, the actor filed for bankruptcy in 2014. Unfortunately, he never found the same financial success as his Canadian namesake, who had also been a child star.

36. Snub & Josh

Josh Peck, awkwardly, failed to invite his friend and Drake & Josh co-star Drake Bell to his wedding. More awkwardly, Bell went off about the snub on Twitter, telling the world “True colors have come out today. Message is loud and clear. Ties are officially cut. I’ll miss you brother.” Eventually, Bell came to regret the outburst and deleted his tweet. We’ve all been there, right?

35. Close but Not That Close

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are not actually identical twins. They’re sororal twins—that means a set of fraternal twins who are both female. Get it? Sororal, sorority—it’s all Greek to me! Or is that Latin? I digress. They actually began sharing the role of Michelle Tanner in Full House when they were just 6 months old!

34. Just Plain Depressing Affair

Anissa Jones began playing Buffy in the 1960s sitcom Family Affair at the age of only 4. Her real family life was less than idyllic: Jones’ mother forced her to wear her hair in childish pigtails and baby doll dresses until she was 13, in order to maintain their lucrative marketing deal to sell Buffy-style clothing. After Jones retreated to friends’ homes in the wake of her father’s death, her mom reasserted control by reporting Jones as a runaway and having her jailed as delinquent. Anissa Jones died of a drug overdose at the age of 18.

33. I Love You, You Love Me

Before they made it on Disney, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato co-starred together on an episode of Barney & Friends. They remained friends into their teens, eventually drifting apart, before being brought back together when Gomez reached out to Lovato when she was in rehab for substance abuse in 2011.

32. The Balding Brady

Producers of The Brady Bunch felt the blonde hair of Susan Olsen, who played Cindy Brady, just wasn’t “blonde enough.” They ordered regular bleaching for the 8-year-old actor, so she could achieve that angelic towheaded look. Unfortunately, Olsen’s hair began falling out in clumps by the second season. Olsen’s tearful complaints prompted the showrunner, Sherwood Schwartz, to order the staff to back off and leave “Cindy’s” hair alone.

31. The Shining: Sheltered Edition

Danny Lloyd, the 6-year-old boy who played Danny in The Shining, had no idea that he was filming a horror movie. All that Lloyd knew was that they were making a movie about a family staying in a hotel; he was only shown edits which took the film’s scary parts out and didn’t see the full film until he was a teenager.

30. Cute & Deadly

After scoring adorable roles in Jerry McGuire, Stuart Little, and The Little Vampire, the towheaded child actor Jonathan Lipnicki now trains mixed martial arts fighters.

29. Missed Encounters

Mara Wilson is remembered for her memorable parts in flicks like Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda. However, she also auditioned for the 1998 remake for The Parent Trap but was considered too young for the part (the role later went to Lindsay Lohan). Right before her acting retirement, Wilson received the script for Donnie Darko, but ultimately declined to audition. Since retiring from acting, she has focused on writing, and has also been outspoken about her struggles with mental health.

28. Vincent Crabbe & the Magical Molotov

Most of us know why Vincent Crabbe just disappears after Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix: the actor who played him, Jamie Waylett, was arrested for possession of cannabis in 2009. But his legal troubles did not stop there; Waylett was also arrested for participation in the 2011 London riots. The courts charged him for “violent disorder” and accused him of possessing a Molotov cocktail after looting a chemist—that’s a pharmacist, for us North Americans.

27. Was Ross That Bad a Dad?

Before living the Suite Life of Zach and Cody, Cole Sprouse had a plum job on Friends as baby Ben, Ross Gellar’s son. He appeared for only eight episodes, and no one ever explained why Ross’s custody visits suddenly stopped. Was the character hiding somewhere hanging out with Marcel the monkey, or was he already moving to Riverdale?

26. Getting Out While the Money Was Good

Ever wonder why Lily from Modern family looked…different after season 2? Well, the first set of twins to share the role—Ella and Jaden Hiller—turned their little backs on showbiz and the $34,000 per episode they were receiving to play the role. It was clear to the twins’ parents that the girls hated being on set, so they promptly withdrew their daughters from acting. Don’t worry: according to their parents, every dollar has been saved to Ella and Jaden’s college fund.

25. Big Money, Big Tears

Macaulay Culkin was the first child actor to receive a $1 million paycheck for a role—and it was a supporting one too! He played the tragically doomed character of Thomas J. in My Girl.

24. Egad, Dad!

Macaulay Culkin has been open about his troubled relationship with his father. Culkin claims that his father was physically and mentally abusive, in addition to being ultra-controlling of his young son’s professional life. At one point, Culkin’s father forbade his son from relying on cue cards during the boy’s Saturday Night Live guest spot—which means that the SNL cast couldn’t rely on them either, even though they regularly used them. He has been estranged from his father for years.

 23. From Stock Market to Shock Market

While the Lohan name has since become synonymous with scandal and stage parenting, Lindsay Lohan’s parents actually hail from Wall Street rather than Sunset Boulevard. Her father, Michael Lohan, was a longtime Wall Street trader who sold the family’s multi-million-dollar pasta business to fund Hollywood projects; Lindsay’s mother, Dina, is a former Wall Street analyst.

22. Baby Breadwinner

Lindsay Lohan’s modeling career took off when she was only 3 years old. During this time, her father, Michael, was serving a 3-year jail sentence for insider trading and contempt of court. By the time he was released, his daughter was already at the height of her career.

21. Starlets & Sublets

Raven-Symoné, of That’s So Raven and The Cosby Show fame, used to be roommates with none other than Lindsay Lohan. Hopefully not while Lohan was filming her show Lindsay for the Oprah network, which basically consisted of eight episodes of her haphazardly packing boxes for a move that never seemed to happen.

20. With a Minor in Cuteness

After acting since the age of 6 and performing a 6-season run on 3rd Rock from the Sun, Joseph Gordon-Levitt attended Columbia University to study history, literature, and French poetry. He seems to have turned out okay and has made his mark in multiple Christopher Nolan films and the rom-com 500 Days of Summer.

19. Pucker Up and Rate It a C-Plus

While filming Addams Family Values, Christina Ricci shared her first kiss—that’s both onscreen and in real life—with then-15-year-old David Krumholtz. Apparently, Ricci did not enjoy it, citing Krumholtz’s peach-fuzz lip situation.

18. From Child Star to Behind Bars

Remember the creepy white-faced stranger with the video camera from David Lynch’s Lost Highway? That’s Robert Blake, who was once a child star. He played the adorable “Mickey” in the classic 1940s Our Gang shorts. The post-war child star was also tried for the murder of his wife in 2001.

Child Stars facts

17. Life Is Unfair

Frankie Muniz suffers from long-term memory loss and can barely remember filming Malcolm in the Middle. Muniz starred on the sitcom from 2000 to 2006, but a series of mini-strokes and nine childhood concussions have left him mostly unable to recall his childhood stardom.

16. Little Miss Long-Distance Learning

Being a child star often means sacrificing the traditional school experience. Hilary Duff, the star of Disney’s Lizzie McGuire, was homeschooled starting at the age of 10. Bet that makes for a lonely high school prom situation.

15. Mouse (and Bigotry) in the House!

You might remember young Tommy Kirk’s face from ‘50s and ‘60s films like Old Yeller, The Swiss Family Robinson, and The Hardy Boys. However, Kirk became a victim of the industry’s attempt to control the sexuality of their child stars. After Kirk discovered that he was gay when he was a teen, Disney did too and gave the star the boot.

14. Uncovering Scandal

Jessica Biel first rose to fame in the 1990s as Mary, the adorable daughter on 7th Heaven. At the age of 17, however, Biel posed for a racy photoshoot which graced the cover of Gear magazine. 7th Heaven had built its entire image on wholesomeness, and they did not appreciate Biel’s look. Biel was promptly written off in the show’s fifth season.

13. Wild Child

Although Drew Barrymore has made it to the other side of child stardom, with a nice career and family, the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial star struggled with addiction and mental illness from a very young age. As a result, Barrymore’s mother institutionalized her when she was just 13. Upon her release, Barrymore legally emancipated herself from her parents.

12. Hitting Trouble

In 2010, the Disney darling Demi Lovato made headlines for punching her backup dancer, Alex Welch, in the face. It was later revealed that the teenager hit Welch because she had suspected Welch would tell the Jonas Brothers tour managers about her substance abuse problems.

11. Call Me by My Name

Jonathan Taylor Thomas was a household name in the 1990s, with his role in Tim Allen’s Home Improvement, as well as numerous starring roles in movies. He also hated his popular, abbreviated nickname, “JTT,” and doesn’t understand why people can’t just say the whole thing.

10. Dark Sided Criticism

Jake Lloyd’s performance as the child Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker was not …the best-received part of the Star Wars prequels. At the age of 10, Lloyd was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor. That’s got to hurt. At least he ultimately lost to his co-star Ahmed Best, who played Jar Jar Binks.

9. I See … No Part For You in This Production

A 10-year-old Michael Cera auditioned for the role of Cole Sear in The Sixth Sense. Of course, he didn’t get the part. Cera didn’t know that the movie was about seeing dead people, and played the role a little too “upbeat.” In the scene where Dr. Crowe (played by Bruce Willis) says he can’t see Cole as a patient anymore, Cera apparently played off the line “Some magic is real” a bit too optimistically for a boy who’s being medically abandoned.

8. Kid Star Kung-Fu

After starring as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Data in The Goonies, Jonathan Ke Quan did not stick to acting. The young Vietnamese actor continued his studies in martial arts and became a stunt choreographer for movies like X-Men.

7. Screech Reaches Too Far

If you watched TV in the ‘90s, you’ll probably remember Dustin Diamond as the nerdy, funny Screech from Saved by the Bell. If you’ve watched entertainment news in the 2000s, you might also remember Diamond for his self-released sex-tape, his agitation of fellow contestants on VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club, and his 4-month stint in jail relating to a 2014 stabbing.

6. Cover Your Eyes

Jodie Foster was required to undergo a psychiatric evaluation before she could play Iris, the underage sex worker in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Cab. Accordingly, a childcare worker had to be on set at all times with the 12-year-old actor. Foster herself was more affected by the bloody shootout scenes than the film’s sexual content. Undoubtedly, the role also had an effect on her after it attracted the attention of John Hinckley Jr., who developed an obsession with the talented actor and began stalking her when she was a freshman at Yale. In 1981, Hinckley attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan to get her attention, and as a result, she was the subject of intense media scrutiny and was also forced to participate in his trial for the assassination attempt.

5. Precious Prize Winner

Tatum O’Neal is the youngest Oscar winner in any category. She won the 1973 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, for her role as Addie in Paper Moon, when she was just 10 years old. She starred in the film opposite her father, who she would later claim physically and emotionally abused her when she was a child, also claiming that her father’s drug dealer molested her while visiting him when she was just 12 years old. Later in life, following her divorce, O’Neal struggled with drugs.

4. Dimples and Diplomacy

The dark side of Hollywood seemingly never got to Shirley Temple. Rumors did abound during the heyday of her career—including one claiming that she was actually not a child, but a 30-year-old dwarf, with teeth filed to look like baby teeth. After conquering Hollywood in her youth, Shirley Temple had a lucrative career in diplomacy. In 1969, the 41-year-old Temple was appointed to represent the US at United Nations General Assembly. She also served as the US Ambassador to Ghana under Gerald Ford and the Ambassador to Czechoslovakia under George H. W. Bush.

3. Predators Comes in All Forms

Hollywood’s “Golden Age” often exposed child actors to grim sexual abuse. For example, producer Arthur Freed once lewdly exposed himself to Shirley Temple. When the innocent 12-year-old girl laughed at him, Freed angrily threw her out of his office.

2. Advanced Addiction

Before reforms in US child labor laws, Hollywood studios could be brutal to their most vulnerable stars. Judy Garland, for example, had to work 18-hour days on set when she was as young as 13. MGM Studios, according to Garland, had a drug regime to keep her going: amphetamines for energy during the day and then a dose of sleeping pills at night.

1. One Pill Makes You Smaller

When Judy Garland was 14, MGM let her know that she looked like “a fat pig with pigtails.” To make her svelte for her roles, executives ordered the cafeteria to only feed Garland chicken soup, put her on diet pills, and encouraged the girl to suppress her appetite by smoking up to 80 cigarettes a day.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43


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