Puberty is difficult enough without having to live your life in the spotlight. There are many perks of celebrity, but growing up in the public eye is not one of them. Although it was no doubt exciting for all of these young stars to find themselves rich beyond their wildest dreams and beloved by legions of adoring fans, each one of them learned the hard way that fame isn’t necessarily all that its cracked up to be. There are plenty of adults who have crumbled under the tremendous pressures of stardom - these child actors simply had no way to prepare for the danger and uncertainty that lay ahead of them.
We all know that Hollywood stories don’t always have happy endings. Some of these stars managed to claw their way up from rock bottom, while others never managed to find their way back. Whether it was due to addiction, mental illness, or simply bad behavior, these young performers have all lost the plot at some point.
There are many child actors who don’t live to tell the tale, but for those that are still with us, there remains hope that they will find happiness.
Here are 8 Child Stars Who Came Back From Rock Bottom (And 7 Who Never Did).
15 Came Back – Drew Barrymore
Drew Blythe Barrymore landed her first acting gig at eleven months old and her role in E.T. the Extra Terrestrial launched her to superstardom at seven. By thirteen, the young actress was already having substance problems. Her near constant partying kept her in the public eye, even as acting roles dried up due to her addiction. Barrymore was emancipated from her parents at fourteen and wound up cleaning toilets to pay the rent.
At seventeen, Barrymore scored a role in Poison Ivy and went on to make sixteen films in just six years. These days, she is starring in the Netflix series Santa Clarita Diet. She has made countless beloved movies, including The Wedding Singer and Never Been Kissed, and has also produced and directed.
Barrymore was considered washed up at fourteen, but is now one of Hollywood’s most beloved actresses.
14 Never Did – Edward Furlong
There was a time when it seemed like Edward Walter Furlong was on the precipice of an incredible acting career. After making a name for himself costarring with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, he went on to other notable roles in films such as Pecker and American History X. He worked with the likes of Kathy Bates and Jeff Bridges, and earned praise for his performances.
By the early 2000s, Furlong was in mostly straight-to-DVD fare, due in large part to his ongoing battle with substance abuse. It seemed that a role in Green Hornet would lead to career resurgence for the actor. However, his string of arrests for crimes ranging from DUIs to spousal abuse has only continued. Sadly, the actor doesn’t seem poised to make a comeback anytime soon.
13 Came Back – Kirsten Dunst
For this young actress, it wasn’t substance abuse that caused her star to plummet, but depression. Kirsten Caroline Dunst gained worldwide recognition for her work in Interview with the Vampire when she was twelve years old. Her success continued with films such as The Virgin Suicides and she saw her career skyrocket when she landed the role of Mary Jane Watson in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy.
In 2008, amid rumors of suspected substance abuse, Dunst checked herself into a treatment center for depression. She diagnosed the cause as “totally ridiculous expectations people put on actors." Following treatment, Dunst threw herself back into her work, gaining acclaim for her performance in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia - a film about depression. In 2015, she was praised for her work in Fargo.
Dunst appears to be in good spirits these days and shows no signs of slowing down. She's even planning to direct an adaptation of The Bell Jar.
12 Never Did – Mischa Barton
In 2004, anyone claiming that Mischa Anne Barton – who began acting at eight – would leave The O.C. and move onto a career consisting of little beyond tabloid articles wouldn’t have been believed. Marissa Cooper was one of the show’s most beloved characters and Barton seemed to have a bright future ahead of her.
However, after leaving the series in 2006, Barton’s career has stalled and she has been the victim of nothing short of a tabloid assault ever since. She has been criticized for everything from her partying to her cellulite.
Beginning with a DUI arrest in 2007, the actress has had a string of legal troubles. She was hospitalized in 2009 and again in 2017 when Barton claimed she was dosed with GHB. The star’s most recent issue was a revenge taoe being shopped around to the highest bidder. Barton has obtained restraining orders against the unnamed exes potentially involved.
11 Came Back – Winona Ryder
Few actresses were quite as adored as Winona Ryder. In the ‘80s, she starred in films such as Beetlejuice and Heathers, and in the ‘90s, the actress originally named Winona Laura Horowitz appeared in movies like Edward Scissorhands and Girl, Interrupted. However, it all came to a screeching halt when the star was arrested for shoplifting $5,500 worth of clothes and jewelry from Saks Fifth Avenue. During the trial – Ryder was caught red-handed on the security footage – the actress also stood accused of taking pills without valid prescriptions.
Despite this drastically derailing Ryder’s career, she continued acting and slowly but surely rebuilt it. Her 2010 turn in Black Swan was very well received and from there, her trajectory remained upward. She can currently be seen in the immensely popular Netflix series, Stranger Things.
10 Never Did – River Phoenix
Raised in a cult and born River Jude Bottom, River Phoenix began acting at the age of twelve. He found fame quickly after his breakthrough role in Stand By Me in 1986 and went on to star in other notable films such as Running on Empty and My Own Private Idaho. The actor was also a musician and an activist. A lifelong vegan, Phoenix dedicated much of his life to fundraising for animal welfare and environmentalism.
Friends and family have stated that Phoenix had been struggling with addiction in the years before his death. He tragically lost his life at the Viper Room, Johnny’s Depp’s LA nightclub, at the age of twenty-three. His brother Joaquin, sister Rain, and girlfriend Samantha Mathis tried in vain to save the actor’s life, but he was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.
9 Came Back – Britney Spears
Britney Jean Spears started out on The Mickey Mouse Club, but her fame skyrocketed to epic proportions when her musical debut became the best selling album ever by a teenage artist. From there, Spears only grew more successful with each subsequent venture. By the time her fall from grace began, she was an international superstar.
Spears began struggling in 2006, and due to her stardom, every new aspect of her meltdown was painfully public. Whether the performer was in rehab, shaving her head, or driving with her young child in her lap, the whole world knew about it.
It’s difficult to say how Spears managed such a successful comeback, but over the past several years she has certainly reclaimed her throne with one chart-topping album and sold out tour after another.
8 Never Did – Lindsay Lohan
Lindsay Dee Lohan began her modeling career at the age of three. After making a name for herself in films like The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday, Lohan starred in Mean Girls. It seemed as though the only way for her star to go was up, but the trouble began around 2007. She landed in rehab, but soon was caught driving under the influence. From then on it seemed that Lohan could not stay clean for any significant amount of time – whether she was wearing an alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelet or not.
Lohan has continued to have a string of run-ins with the law and finding roles has been an ongoing struggle for the notoriously difficult to work with actress. Perhaps she still has a comeback in store, but as of now, it seems unlikely.
7 Came Back – Jason Bateman
Jason Kent Bateman’s television career began with Little House on the Prairie when he was eleven years old. Parts in Silver Spoons and The Hogan Family followed, but after a few film roles, the actor mostly vanished from sight. What many don’t realize is that while Bateman was making made for TV movies, he was also spiraling out of control with addiction. According to Bateman, “It was like Risky Business for 10 years.” That may sound fun, but it got old and when the actor was offered a second chance, he didn’t squander it.
Bateman is now best known for playing Michael Bluth in Arrested Development. The fifth season of this brilliant comedy series is currently in development. He also received rave reviews for his Netflix series, Ozark. Bateman is extremely grateful for his career resurgence and now splits his time between his family, and acting, producing, and directing.
6 Never Did – Corey Haim
Corey Ian Haim began acting at ten years old and before long, the actor was a teen idol, starring in films such as The Lost Boys and Dream a Little Dream. It was on the set of the former that he met another troubled Corey, Corey Feldman. After that film, the two were inseparable.
Gradually, both performers saw their careers devolve from sought after actors to C-listers. Together they starred in the short-lived reality series The Two Coreys. Feldman has since alleged that both actors were abused as young boys in Hollywood and that it was the abuse that led to Haim’s ongoing substance abuse problems and ultimately, his untimely death.
After decades spent battling addiction, Haim was found dead in 2010 at thirty-eight years old. Although his death was attributed to pneumonia, the toxicology report revealed at least eight different substances in his system.
5 Came Back - Jodie Sweetin
Jodie Lee-Ann Sweetin’s formative years were spent playing Stephanie Tanner on Full House, a role she landed at just five years old. At thirteen, the series ended and the young actress found herself suddenly out of a job. Adjusting to “normal” life wasn’t easy for Sweetin and she spent much of her teens and twenties in and out of treatment facilities for her rapidly progressing addiction.
For a few years, domestic bliss seemed to help Sweetin remain on the road to recovery. However, she would go on to relapse several times over the few years, until almost losing custody of her daughter prompted the actress to make a change. These days, Sweetin is clean once again and has returned to the role that made her famous on the Netflix revival, Fuller House. The series just wrapped its third season.
4 Came Back – Natasha Lyonne
Natasha Bianca Lyonne Braunstein was six when she started acting. At sixteen, she landed a role in Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You and went on to appear in almost thirty films over the next ten years, including Slums of Beverly Hills and But I’m a Cheerleader. However, in the early 2000s, her substance abuse spun out of control. In 2006, the actress was admitted to the hospital, suffering from a collapsed lung, a heart infection, and hepatitis C. She was also undergoing methadone treatment.
Following that, Lyonne spent some time away from the spotlight and on the road to recovery. She now plays a character whose life shares many similarities with her own, fan favorite Nicole “Nicky” Nichols on Orange is the New Black. In fact, Nicky’s scar is actually Lyonne’s, who after five years of sobriety had open-heart surgery to repair the damage done by the infection.
3 Never Did – Brad Renfro
Cast in The Client at ten years old, Brad Barron Renfro appeared to be on the fast track to fame. Following that, the young actor was cast in high-profile films such as Sleepers and Apt Pupil. However, in 1998 a fifteen-year-old Renfro was arrested for possession and from that point on his life grew increasingly unmanageable. His trouble with the law worsened, with arrests ranging from grand theft to further possession charges.
Tragically, Renfro never got the help that he so desperately needed and was found dead of an overdose at just twenty-five. Mark Foster of Foster the People, Renfro’s former roommate, wrote a song called “Downtown” about Renfro’s untimely death. Sadly, the young actor wasn’t even recognized in the “In Memoriam” montage at the 2008 Academy Awards.
2 Never Did – Dana Plato/Todd Bridges/Gary Coleman
It’s tragic irony that the young stars of Diff’rent Strokes all saw their lives unravel, considering the series basically invented the format of “a very special episode.”
Gary Coleman lost most of his fortune due to a lengthy legal battle with his adoptive parents. Coleman has also had several brushes with the law due to anger management issues, ranging from punching a female fan to attempting to run someone down with his truck.
Dana Plato’s struggle with addiction led her to rob a video store at gunpoint, forge prescriptions and star in some questionable films. Sadly, the actress died of an overdose at thirty-five.
The only member of this “family” who seems to have recovered from his past is Todd Bridges, who after battling addiction throughout the ‘80s and shooting a dealer, is now clean and speaks to young people about addiction.
1 Came Back – Eliza Dushku
Discovered at the age of ten, Eliza Patricia Dushku’s career began in films such as That Night and True Lies - the latter film on which she reports being abused by a stunt coordinator at the age of 12.
However, the actress is far better known for her work in television on shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse. While she retains an extremely dedicated fanbase, what many do not know about Dushku is that she is a recovering addict.
Last year Dushku spoke at a Youth Summit on Opioid Awareness where she revealed her ongoing struggles, which began when she was fourteen years old. After hitting rock bottom – when her brother told her that she could no longer be trusted around his daughter – Dushku sought help and at the time of the Summit she had been clean for eight and a half years. She is currently producing and starring in a TV series based on The Black Company book series.
Do you know any other child stars who found their way back from rock bottom? Let us know in the comments!
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