Macaulay Culkin is a bundle of contradictions. His parents raised him poor in America’s most expensive city. On film he was left home alone, but in his real life he was crowded with his six siblings in a tiny apartment. He was, at one point in his career, the highest-paid child movie star, and yet he received seven nominations for worst actor of the year. His best friend was an alleged predator, but Culkin claims he didn’t get harmed. Let’s dive deep into these Macaulay Culkin facts, and get to know the man who grew out of this child star legend.
In 1974, before Macaulay Culkin was even born, his father took a wrong turn. Christopher Cornelius "Kit" Culkin was in Sundance, Wyoming when a traffic controller stopped him. Kit fell hard for the traffic controller, Patricia Brentrup, and the two hooked up and moved to New York City. They had two children and then, on August 26, 1980, little Macaulay came along.
Yes, they lived in glamorous New York City, but they weren’t exactly taking a bite of the big apple.
Early life for the Culkins was difficult. They lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Yorkville Manhattan, which is quite the swanky neighborhood. Yes, the surroundings were posh, but money was extremely tight. Mom worked as a telephone operator and dad, who was once a stage actor, took care of a nearby Catholic Church. Mr. and Mrs. Culkin, however, seemed to have another occupation: making babies.
Culkin remembers the apartment in Manhattan simply as a hallway. He doesn’t remember there being any doors except on the bathroom—which lacked a functioning lock. As the third child, he simply remembers a succession of babies arriving and the apartment just growing smaller and smaller. The Culkins, once they hit magic number seven, stopped having kids.
With seven kids and two adults, the small apartment was quickly becoming a pressure cooker.
Life in the tiny apartment was even more tense than it needed to be because of Culkin’s father Kit. Kit ran the home, which he called his kingdom, like the captain of a ship. He terrorized his children. When he didn’t get his way, Kit used humiliation and even physical assault to keep the family in line. To make matters worse, it seemed that the Culkins had had so many children for a selfish reason: They wanted to put them to work.
Because the Culkins were so poor, their parents expected the kids to earn money. Macaulay Culkin started working at the age of four. He appeared on stage with the New York Philharmonic and in the comedy horror made-for-TV movie The Midnight Hour as an uncredited trick or treater. In TV’s The Equalizer, Culkin finally had a character with a name: kidnapping victim Paul Gephardt.
Sure this small-time stuff was good for pocket money, but the Culkins needed a major bread earner—and they were getting desperate.
In 1988, Culkin made the move from the small screen to the big. He was just eight years old when he appeared alongside heavyweights like Burt Lancaster and Patricia Clarkson in the star-studded Rocket Gibraltar. He then appeared in See You In The Morning with another child star who’d had a rough life: Drew Barrymore. His final film in the 1980s was the comedy Uncle Buck with John Candy. Not too shabby!
While the 80s saw Culkin pulling in a decent living in smaller supporting roles, there was no preparing him for what the next decade would bring.
It was a new decade, and it was a big one for Culkin. When Culkin worked with director John Hughes on Uncle Buck, Hughes saw something special in Culkin. In fact, he was so taken with Culkin’s acting that he wrote a movie just for him: Home Alone. Now, you’d think that, since Hughes had written it for him, Culkin wouldn’t have to put any effort into getting the role. Well, that’s not exactly how it worked out.
The problem was that even though Hughes wrote the film for Culkin, Hughes wasn’t directing. Chris Columbus was the director, and he didn’t want to seem like he wasn’t the big boss on the film. To prove this, he not only refused to blindly hire Culkin, he also went overboard. He auditioned hundreds of boys for the role of Kevin McCallister. What chance did Culkin have?
Director Columbus had auditioned hundreds of child actors for the role of Kevin in Home Alone, then the truth finally dawned on him: He was being petty. Hughes was right, Culkin was the best kid for the role. Columbus signed Culkin up for the part and filming began. No one at the time knew what a huge hit Home Alone would be, so Culkin’s salary was set at a measly $100,000.
His first paycheck, however, couldn’t come fast enough for poor Macaulay Culkin.
Sure Culkin was starring in a multi-million dollar movie, but he was still poor. The casting director, Bill Hopkins, said that he had to pay out of his own pocket to get Culkin to and from rehearsal. He also said that he often found Culkin on his hands and knees looking for spare change that people may have dropped. Didn’t the other actors on the film think this was strange behavior for a child star? Nope, they were too busy ignoring him.
During the Home Alone shoot, actor Joe Pesci—who had just wowed audiences for his tough-guy role in Goodfellas—avoided Culkin. He wanted to instill an authentic fear in Culkin to help the kid with his acting. Well, Pesci went too far. In one scene, his character was trying to bite off Culkin's finger. Unfortunately, Pesci got the timing wrong and, instead of missing, actually connected his tooth with the child star’s finger. Culkin still has a scar to this day.
This, however, wasn’t the only risk to Culkin’s health during the Home Alone shoot.
It was unusual to have an actor so young carry a feature film. In fact, child labor laws said that Culkin could only work five hours a day. Even still, Culkin often became tired and took to sleeping on the hard floor between takes. Ouch. Eventually, Culkin caught a cold and the producers had to give him a break. They still, however, made him shoot one scene while sick. Look closely at the scene where Kevin runs from officers after shoplifting a toothbrush: He looks, and sounds, terrible.
Apparently, what Culkin needed was a mom.
Culkin had the weight of an $18 million movie on his shoulders, which is an incredible amount of pressure. It’s easy to forget that, during all this, Culkin was still a young boy. Something Catherine O’Hara, who played Culkin’s mom in the movie, said in 2014 gives us an insight into how Culkin was feeling during the intense shoot. She said that back then Culkin called her mom. In fact, he still does to this day.
But did Culkin really need a replacement mom?
Even though Culkin was still a boy, his co-star, Joe Pesci, remembers it differently. Pesci later said that Culkin "is not like a nine-year-old. He’s an old man already". He was referring to Culkin’s maturity on the set and to his process of being an actor. Culkin’s stunt double, on the other hand, was actually an old man. At least compared to Culkin—he was 30 years old.
Culkin may have been mature, but a mistake he made on Home Alone is still with us today.
One of the most iconic and reproduced images from Home Alone—and maybe even from the entire 1990s—is Culkin holding his hands to his face while screaming. Some say it’s meant to be an image borrowed from the famous painting The Scream by Edvard Munch. In reality, Culkin had forgotten to put his hands away from the previous pose and screamed with his hands on his face. Oops.
Well, mistakes or no mistakes, it was clear that Culkin was doing something right.
Test audiences saw a slightly different version of Home Alone before regular audiences did. In this version, there were more scenes of the McCallisters over in Paris. Test audiences seemed to agree on one thing: They wanted less Paris and more Culkin. Editors quickly snipped away at the Paris footage and gave us more scenes of Culkin. It turned out the test audiences were right: The film was a phenomenal success.
Home Alone went on to take in $476.7 million at the box office—the highest for a live-action comedy until 2011’s The Hangover Part II. Culkin, at just 10 years of age, received a nomination for a Golden Globe for best actor in a musical or comedy. Incredible, except for one thing: In Hollywood, there’s this idea that a transition from child actor to adult star was rarely successful.
Culkin was suddenly one of the biggest stars at that time. He had the world on a platter—but it could all go terribly wrong.
After Home Alone, Culkin dove right back into work. He starred in Wish Kid, a Saturday morning show for kids, and around the same time he hosted Saturday Night Live. Isn’t it a little strange that Culkin was working for both early morning Saturday cartoons and late-night Saturday sketch comedy? The poor kid must have been more than a little mixed up. Good thing he had his dad as a manager—or was it?
Yes, Kit Culkin was managing his son’s career, but was he the best man for the job? In 1992, Culkin was all set to reprise his role of Kevin in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Obviously, there could be no Home Alone sequel without Culkin, and Kit knew this. Dad saw that he had some leverage and he decided to play with it. The offer for Culkin to act in the sequel was an incredible $5 million—and dad almost made it completely disappear.
Kit Culkin said his son would appear in the Home Alone sequel on one condition: That Culkin and his sister Quinn, got roles in the upcoming movie The Good Son. Kit Culkin knew what he had on his hands—a million-dollar son. But wasn’t he playing a risky game with his son’s career? The studio reluctantly agreed to Kit’s demand, but Kit wasn’t making any friends with these kinds of tactics.
Culkin did appear in both films and made a cool $5 million for each. But I wouldn't say everything worked out perfectly...
Following the lukewarm reviews of The Good Son, Culkin’s next films did even worse. Audiences weren’t that comfortable with a Culkin that wasn’t quite as adorable as Kevin McCallister. He appeared in the duds Getting Even With Dad and Richie Rich, receiving $8 million apiece. This set a record for the highest salary ever paid to a child actor.
Unfortunately, Kit believed that his son’s fame had a shelf life—which made him push Culkin to work even harder.
Culkin had been working pretty much nonstop since he was four, and he was exhausted. He turned to his dad and asked if he could take a break. You know a kid is serious about something when he begs to go to school more. Culkin had had it with being a celebrity and just wanted some normalcy. Kit Culkin looked at his adorable son and just said no.
As we’ll soon see, Kit Culkin had just made a huge mistake.
Culkin’s parents, Kit and Patricia, had never been married, but they were ready to call it quits anyway. It could have been an easy peasy separation except for one thing: Culkin had made them a fortune and they needed to split it up. But how much was Culkin actually worth? The strange thing was that Culkin himself had no idea.
Culkin knew that he was a popular child star, but didn’t really know how much he was worth. Apparently, dad was purposefully keeping Culkin in the dark about his net worth by hiding newspapers from him. When his parents' separation went public, Culkin found out the startling truth: He was worth over $15 million. Culkin was suddenly in a prime position to pay his father back for not letting him take that much-needed break from show business.
Culkin realized that nothing good would come from his father getting access to his fortune. He had nothing against his mother, but he decided to file a suit to be free of both of them. Many reports said that Culkin was suing for emancipation, but that was incorrect. He simply wanted to remove them as controllers of his trust fund. The court saw no reason not to grant Culkin his wish, and at 16 years of age, Culkin walked away with the fortune he’d worked so hard to amass.
And what was Culkin’s farewell gift to his father? He cut him off completely.
Culkin later talked about what life with dad had been like. He said his father was cruel at home and even sometimes violent. As an adult, Culkin later had insight into why his father behaved the way he did. He thought his father was jealous of him. Kit Culkin had wanted to be a movie star, and he had to watch as his son did exactly what he had wanted to do, and all before he was 10 years old.
With dad no longer in control of his life, Culkin could do whatever he wanted. But was that a good thing?
Culkin’s first act as a free man was to not act at all. He took a well-deserved break from starring in movies and did something normal: attended high school. Once he’d done that, he looked for a new family and found it in fellow actor Rachel Miner. The two married at the age of 18, but this union crashed and burned. They split up just two years later.
The reason? Miner wanted to start a family. Meanwhile, Culkin wasn’t ready to call it quits just yet.
The truth was: Culkin wasn’t through with acting. He just wanted to finally do it on his own terms, away from his father. In 2000, just ten years after Home Alone had made him a household name, Culkin appeared on stage in London. In 2003, he did an about-face and landed a guest spot on the wildly popular sitcom Will and Grace. It may have been that Culkin was reluctant to hit the big screen. Were his past experiences haunting him?
It seemed that Culkin was waiting around for a film role that would define him as something very different from Kevin McCallister. That film was 2003’s Party Monster. This based-on-a-true-story film follows Michael Alig (Culkin) a club kid who ends up with addiction problems and worse still, in prison for murder. The film got a big "meh" from audiences, but Roger Ebert called Culkin’s performance "fearless".
Culkin had to be fearless, because one of his co-stars was very scary rocker Marilyn Manson.
When he was making Party Animal, Culkin made friends with shock rocker Marilyn Manson. When you imagine Culkin and Manson together you might think that some of Manson’s edge could rub off on squeaky clean Culkin. In fact, the opposite was true. Culkin actually bought something for Manson that had the potential to send the singer down a slippery slope: His first pack of smokes.
Sounds like Culkin could use some religion in his life. Well, his next movie served it up nicely.
What Culkin learned from Party Monster was that he could play darker characters, which led him to 2004’s Saved! This satirical comedy saw Culkin playing a wheelchair-bound student at a Christian high school. That doesn’t sound dark to you? In Saved! Culkin took the risk of playing a usually sympathetic character and making it dark and cynical. But maybe that was just his true character finally shining through?
Macaulay Culkin had a serious wild side. He confessed to New York Magazine that there was a point in his life when he was doing the New York bar scene and "flirting with every waitress". He then did yet another about-face and decided he’d had enough—he became celibate. And that’s when fate pitched him a curveball: He met and fell for the beautiful Mila Kunis.
Mila Kunis, of That 70s Show fame, was someone who Culkin would gladly break his vow of celibacy for. The two started dating in 2002, and Culkin was pretty sure they’d be having kids together anytime soon. However, things don't always work out as planned. By 2006, the couple was living in separate cities, and the relationship was no longer working. They eventually split in 2011.
But Culkin was having more serious problems than just girl trouble.
In September 2004, Culkin was in Oklahoma, sitting in the passenger seat of his friend's car. The driver—actor Brett M. Tabisel—was speeding and driving unsafely. Officers pulled the pair over and decided to perform a search of the vehicle. When officers asked Culkin what was in a black bag on the floor, Culkin had an odd reply. He said the bag contained $3,000. But that wasn’t true.
The bag actually contained marijuana.
Once the marijuana was out of the bag, Culkin dug into his pocket and produced something more: eight Xanax and 16 sedatives. Of course, all of this was a big no-no, and Culkin and his friend soon found themselves locked up in a cell at the station. Culkin eventually paid $4,000 bail and $540 in fees and received something else: three one-year suspended sentences.
After this brush with the law, Culkin lasted a year before heading to court again—this time to help an old friend.
Back in 1990, Culkin became friends with another star who’d also made it big as a child: Michael Jackson. So what would these two, with an age difference of 22 years, have in common? At the time, Cuklin had nothing to talk about with his peers—he was taking in up to $8 million a picture while his classmates were mowing lawns for 10 bucks. Jackson, who’d also been pushed by a domineering father, knew what Culkin was going through.
When allegations against Jackson led to a 2005 molestation charge, however, suddenly Culkin’s friendship with Jackson was under the microscope.
When the trial began, most people thought that Culkin would appear as one of Jackson’s alleged victims. Instead, Culkin did something surprising: He stood up as a character witness. What Culkin said about Jackson boiled down to two things: "I never saw anything, he never did anything". Some say Culkin isn’t telling the truth, but he has stuck to his story.
Much like the Home Alone story has stuck to him.
Culkin has a clear sense of humor about his career and isn’t above making jokes about his most famous character. In 2009, there was a WWE wrestling match and pint-sized wrestler Hornswoggle used an old trick he’d seen in Home Alone to get an edge on his opponent. It was the old swinging paint can trick, and it knocked the other wrestler out of the match. Just then, Culkin poked his head through a doorway and said, "That's not funny".
While this return to being Kevin McCallister seemed just for laughs, his next one seemed just for cash.
A few years later, Culkin found himself playing Kevin McCallister once again; this time in an ad for Google Assistant. Culkin reprised some of the iconic scenes from Home Alone, but as an adult. Grownup Culkin looked pretty silly jumping on the bed, but with Google Assistant at least he had something to remind him about what to do next. Well, it turned out that there was still an audience for Culkin as Kevin, and the ad quickly went viral.
Culkin’s band, on the other hand, did the opposite of going viral.
In 2013 Culkin started a band called The Pizza Underground, a comedic parody group that played Velvet Underground covers. In Culkin’s version, however, the lyrics all had references to pizza. While this cheesy gag went over fairly well in America, things went sour once the band crossed the pond.
When Culkin’s The Pizza Underground took the stage at Rock City in Nottingham, England they faced something they probably hadn’t anticipated: true Velvet Underground fans. The audience thought that Culkin and company were making a mockery of their favorite band and began to boo them. Things in the venue quickly went from bad to worse.
Culkin and his Pizza Underground bandmates were facing an unruly crowd that didn’t appreciate their music. The boos quickly became something worse: flung pints of ale. While dodging the sudsy projectiles, Culkin tried to make light of it, saying that he would rather drink the pints than wear them. After just 15 minutes, the Pizza Underground left the stage.
Culkin canceled the rest of the UK tour, and the band soon split up. Don’t worry Mack, you can cry on Ryan Gosling’s shoulder.
In 2014, a photo surfaced of La La Land’s Ryan Gosling wearing a vintage T-shirt with Macaulay Culkin’s Home Alone face on it. Culkin saw the picture and wanted to have some fun, so he had a special T-shirt of his own made. On Culkin’s shirt, there was a picture of Ryan Gosling...wearing the T-shirt with Culkin on it. It was Culkin on Gosling on Culkin.
It looks like Culkin was a little starved for attention—and he didn’t stop there.
Culkin was looking at his passport one day and realized he didn’t like his middle name: Carson. Instead of just changing it to something else, Culkin had an idea for a little publicity. He offered to change his name based on an online poll. The losing choices were as follows: "TheMicRibIsBack," a shameless MacDonald’s endorsement, "Shark Week," which is just weird, and "Kieran," thought up by Culkin’s brother, Kieren.
The winning name? It might just make you see double.
Culkin’s fourth and winning middle name choice was…drum roll please…Macaulay Culkin! Wait a minute, doesn't that mean his name is actually Macaulay Macaulay Culkin Culkin? Yikes! So, Culkin did actually go down to the courthouse, or wherever you go to get this done, and made it his name. It’s quite a mouthful and must make his passport look ridiculous. And speaking of passports, Culkin was about to need his…to fall in love.
Culkin appeared in Changeland—a 2019 comedy-drama written and directed by Robot Chicken’s Seth Green. This film, which they shot in Thailand, flew under most people’s radar, and got an approval rating of only 56% on Rotten Tomatoes. One good thing came out of it for Culkin: While they were filming, he met co-star Brenda Song and it was love at first sight. One bad thing that came out of it? Culkin shot his mouth off and got into trouble.
In 2018, Culkin was a guest on The Joe Rogan Experience and you can probably guess that trouble soon ensued. Rogan got Culkin talking about his girlfriend, Brenda Song who is Asian American. Culkin thought it was okay to make some Asian jokes—like calling Song his Yoko Ono, referring to her eye shape and what their little Asian babies were going to look like. And why did he feel so comfortable making these jokes?
He said it was "an Asian girlfriend kinda thing". No Mack, just no.
Years after his spot on The Joe Rogan Experience, Culkin and Song were still together. They eventually had a son who they named Dakota—after Culkin’s sister who’d passed in a traffic accident. Of course the comments Culkin had made on Rogan’s show came back to bite him. When asked about his contentious statements about Asian babies, Culkin just said that he and Song and the baby were all healthy and of course: "overjoyed". Nice dodge Mack.
As a child actor, Culin received his share of awards and nominations. He was even nominated for a Golden Globe Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy—up against adult stars like Richard Gere and Patrick Swayze. At the age of 12, he won MTV’s Best Kiss award for smooching Anna Chlumsky in My Girl. On the other hand, Culkin has been nominated seven times for the Razzie Award for Worst Actor—luckily he’s never won that dubious award.
In 2020, Culkin joined the cast of American Horror Story. Apparently, Culkin got the part over the phone with creator Ryan Murphy. Murphy mentioned that Culkin’s character gets crazy and intimate with Kathy Bates, already famous for playing crazy in 1990’s Misery. There are 32 years between the two actors, but what was Culkin’s answer to Murphy? "This sounds like the role I was born to play".
Which makes me wonder what Culkin’s dad would have said about a role like this—if he still ran his son’s career.
Kit Culkin wasn’t the easiest person to track down. The man who’d brought Macaulay Culkin to superstardom and super wealth was living in Oregon. In 2016, a reporter for the Daily Mail found him and asked about Culkin. Kit’s reply was chilling: "I don't consider him a son anymore". While Macaulay Culkin is clearly no longer home alone, he’s certainly a long way away from reconciling with his father.
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