Fame and power tend to corrupt. This is proven through politics, business and everyday life. Unfortunately, it’s not just adults who are affected by this time-tested adage. Children, thrust into the limelight and bestowed with money and recognition can suffer the exact same fate.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than within the world of Hollywood, where countless child stars have fallen prey to unspeakable crimes and situations, often at the behest of those charged with their protection.
Ironically, it’s the suffering child stars, beloved and shining brightly across the country, that are suffering within, as the demands of public adoration create maddening scenarios and personal problems.
It is time to look over the tragic lives of some of the most adored children of the silver and small screens. Some have happy endings, some do not, but in all cases, they were robbed of the childhood innocence that every child deserves.
Here are the 15 Child Stars Who Lost Their Innocence Too Early.
15 Jodie Sweetin
As the flagship series of ABC’s TGIF programming block, Full House’s goofy-yet-wholesome humor cultivated fans of every age throughout its eight seasons, and even more after it entered syndication.
While the show featured a beloved (and sometimes cringe-worthy) trio of men, it was the daughters of Bob Sagat’s Danny Tanner that were the real icons, particularly Jodie Sweetin in her role as the young Stefanie Tanner. While the Olson Twins were cute as Michelle and Candace and Cameron Bure’s DJ was the crux of crucial plots, Stephanie was in the sweet spot of being a cute little kid in the midst of growing up.
Unfortunately, Jodie Sweetin grew up, too, but a little too fast for her own good. After the show had finished production, Sweetin became an alcoholic at 14, with her substance abuse problems only increasing as the years went on with harder and harder drugs.
Thankfully, she’s regained control of her life and has now become sober. She’s even returned to the role of an all-grown up Stephanie on the sequel series, Fuller House, and continues to bring joy to fans new and old.
14 Corey Feldman
Once again, though, fame took its toll on the young actor, and Feldman found himself in some uncomfortably dark places. While substances certainly played their part, it was a different kind of abuse that robbed Feldman of his innocence.
According to him, Hollywood’s worst, most sordid secret was the prevalent pedophilia, of which he and fellow troubled-child-star Corey Haim were victims of. It was this situation that thrust Corey into drug addiction, and created future problems for the young star.
He’s also had abandonment issues, apparently because of Michael Jackson. While he’s defended Jackson against accusations of molestation, Feldman has claimed that Jackson did damage to him and his life by acting as a caring figure, only to “get bored” and leave him for another troubled soul.
13 Edward Furlong
Perhaps best known as the hip, young John Connor in perennial classic Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Edward Furlong has had a troubled life following the higher points of his career, one fraught with drug use and abuse.
When he was merely 16, he found himself intimately involved with a 29 year-old. This coupling led to the legal emancipation from his parents, despite the relationship crumbling a handful of years later, with his former-beau claiming physical abuse.
He’d continue to be the subject of domestic violence claims with later romances, all while swirling into a vortex of heavy alcohol and drug use, with an especially damning accusation that he had exposed his young son to cocaine.
His problems continued through to 2013, where the spectre of domestic abuse and drug addiction continued to haunt him until he went to rehab in order to avoid further jail time for violating probation.
12 Shia LeBouf
Shia LeBouf has had a rough life, despite his success.
As a Disney channel regular, his major claim to fame was the lead in Disney's Even Stevens, which he then followed up with the main role in Holes.
However, once he was 19, the first in a long-string of problematic events began, with him attacking and threatening a neighbor while ramming his car into theirs. Later, he was arrested for failing to vacate the premises of a Walgreens he was kicked out of. In the following year, he not only failed to appear in court for unlawful smoking, but also got hurt in a car accident while under the influence.
The saddest part of all this is that, although his fame likely played a role in the loss of his innocence, it was his home life that caused him the most suffering, where he was constantly abused by his father, both mentally and verbally.
11 Macaulay Culkin
For a time, Macauly Culkin was a household name and one of the most loved child stars. As Kevin McCallister in Home Alone, Culkin’s award-winning performance endeared him to families everywhere and carried his stardom to a few more classic hits like The Pagemaster.
Luckily, Macauly mostly steered clear of controversy, crime, and other inappropriate situations, but there is one particular sequence that robbed him of his innocence, and that was his association with Michael Jackson.
As the molestation allegations came to a head, Culkin spoke to the court during Jackson’s trial, and revealed that he had, indeed, spent a lot of time with the pop singer, and even slept in his bedroom. However, he maintained that he was not molested and that the accusations were unfounded.
Even so, Culkin's reputation was forever tarnished, and his subsequent arrests later in life for possession, along with his occasionally gaunt appearance, have stoked the fires of rumor regarding the former child star.
10 Brooke Shields
Brooke Shields is a bit of an oddity on this list, as she hasn’t been consumed by self-destructive behavior, become a slave to drugs, and hasn’t been part of anything too controversial or innocence-robbing. Well, except for one thing.
One of her earliest roles was the lead in the film Pretty Baby. Directed by Louis Malle, the film follows the exploits of Violet, a young prostitute in 1917 New Orleans.
The film drummed up major controversy because Shields, at only 12 years old, was the subject of nude scenes and other inappropriate situations. Coupled with the subject matter of child prostitution, this was a recipe for outrage, and Shields was right in the middle of it.
Again, this film and its content did not adversely affect Shields, which is a blessing considering the other sorry souls on this list. Regardless, when one so young takes on the heavy, sexually-charged role of a child prostitute, it’s not hard to say that some innocence was indeed lost.
9 Taran Noah Smith
Home Improvement was essentially a Tim Allen vehicle to spread his mouth sounds and cartoonish reactions to a wider audience. In that sense, it succeeded gracefully. Of course, what would mouth sounds and tool-related antics be without a supporting cast? Enter Taran Noah Smith, who played the youngest member of the Taylor family, Mark.
Starting the show at the age of 7 and growing up to be 16 when the series ended, the young Taran was exposed to an enormous amount of fame and money that, unfortunately, had a bad effect on the youth. Because he spent his formative years on the show, it left him misguided and confused about what he wanted to do with his life, and this is what put him into a nosedive.
When he was 17, he married a much older woman, and then, when he was 18, he sued his parents for control of his trust fund. His troubles continued to haunt him through to 2012, when he was arrested for DUI and drug possession, which put him into rehab and on probation.
8 Amanda Bynes
Amanda Bynes was riding high since she hit it big with Nickelodeon’s SNL-for-kids, All That. With her break out success on the sketch-show, she was granted her own comedy vehicle named after herself: The Amanda Show. Following this, she made the jump to older faire with WB’s What I Like About You, along with a few films.
While things looked okay for the star on the surface, the years of the showbiz industry had taken their toll on her and, after announcing her retirement from acting, the hairline fractures became full-on cracks.
In a seeming attempt to be banned from all motor vehicles for life, she racked up ticket after ticket for DUIs, hits-and-runs, and then driving with a suspended licence.
Afterwards, she was arrested for drug possession (where she infamously tossed a bong out of her apartment window).
This string of criminal acts culminated in the fallen star lighting a fire in front of someone’s house, which resulted in her being admitted to a mental hospital, where she seems to have receieved the help she desperately needed.
7 Miley Cyrus
As another former Disney Channel star, Miley Cyrus’s immense fame seemed to cause her to break away from her wholesome image into one defined by extreme edge.
Starring as Hannah Montana in the show of the same name, Cyrus was portrayed as an innocent, family friendly teen idol, an image which she retained for quite some time as she cultivated legions of fans.
Soon after, however, she deviated from that path, as it was revealed that the actress, at 15 years of age, was photographed seemingly topless for Vanity Fair. As time went on, her pop song lyrics became more racy and controversial, as did her appearance and actions. She also became a huge proponent of marijuana use, and was open about how much she loved it, although that seems to have changed recently.
Despite this massive shift away from her original image and supposed values, at the very least she hasn’t developed any addictions or been admitted to rehab multiple times.
6 Britney Spears
Britney Spears’ famous career started when she was 11, when she appeared on The New Mickey Mouse Club (with other future pop-stars, such as Justin Timberlake).
When 1998 rolled around, she released the single that would skyrocket her to stardom: “… One more Time”. The video immediately clued in viewers that the once-innocent Spears was growing up fast, with its sexual imagery and overtones. This edgy trend would continue through subsequent releases, along with her increasingly aloof and bizarre public actions, like kissing Madonna, driving with her infant on her lap, and shaving her head.
Things got so bad that horrified gawkers everywhere were pleaded with to “leave Britney alone” by a video that nearly defined the term “viral.”
Thankfully, it looks like she’s evened out nowadays and is on a better path.
5 Dana Plato
Dana Plato, at only 13 years old, abandoned her love of competitive ice skating in order to star in Diff’rent Strokes as Kimberly Drummond.
The life of a child star was more difficult than she perceived and she, along with fellow child co-stars Gary Coleman, Charlotte Ray, and Todd Bridges, started experimenting with drugs and alcohol.
By 1984, she was removed from the show due to a pregnancy. The marriage between her and the father of the baby ended shortly after it began, and Plato lost custody of the child because of her continued substance abuse.
To keep herself afloat, she tried her hand at voice work and low-budget films, eventually getting involved with pornography.
Making matters worse, it was discovered that most of her money was embezzled by a crooked accountant, which left her bankrupt. Sadly, following a series of crimes and jail time, her problems would eventually get the best of her as, after an intensifying struggle with drugs, she overdosed at the age of 34.
4 Drew Barrymore
Audiences fell in love with the little actress as Gertie in Spielberg’s E.T., where she remains one of the film’s most iconic characters (aside from the alien, of course.)
The deluge of fame soaked Barrymore in the seemingly toxic culture of Hollywood and, as she got older, she took after her alcoholic father and wild mother.
The 11 year old was already a regular drinker and cigarette smoker, moving onto marijuana by her next birthday and cocaine the following one. At the mere age of 14, Barrymore found herself in rehab and tried to kill herself because of it.
When she was 15, she legally emancipated herself from her parents and tried to make it on her own, working at a coffee shop and eventually posing nude for Playboy at 19.
Thankfully, she managed to overcome her demons and has regained control of her life, going on to find many successes.
3 Corey Haim
Much like Corey Feldman, the other-half of “the two Coreys” had his share of terrible problems because of his fame at a young age and, sadly, he wasn’t able to fully overcome them.
The Lost Boys was what spurred him into the public spotlight, but Haim was never truly interested in acting. By the time he was 15, eager to get away from the fame that was thrust upon him, he turned to drugs.
This problem worsened and hindered his ability to find real work, while his once-beloved image exponentially crumbled. To add further burdens on to the youth, he was sued by his insurance company for not revealing his drug addiction, and this was already following the trouble he found himself in after threatening his business manager.
He had tried to right his trajectory multiple times, with various therapy and rehab attempts, but it was all for naught, as he tragically passed away from a drug overdose in 2010.
2 Demi Lovato
Although she made her acting premiere in the innocent realm of Barney, she didn’t hit her acting stride until she landed a few Disney Channel roles, particularly Sonny With A Chance.
The successful and talented young artist had many struggles, however. Suffering a powerful cocktail of bullying, depression, self-harm, and an eating disorder, she was sent to rehab at 18. Later, she revealed that she frequently used cocaine, to the point of smuggling it onto airplanes to get her fix.
She was diagnosed with biopolar disorder while undergoing treatment, which finally allowed her to receive the treatment she needed to become healthy once more.
The rehabilitation and treatments proved fruitful, as she currently resides in a sober-living facility and has remained clean for five years.
1 Jaimee Foxworth
Apparently, she was kicked off the show for wanting a raise, although the show’s creator claims it was for budgetary reasons. Regardless, this was a bad start for Foxworth’s career, and that theme continued onward for years.
With almost no work following her dismissal, she eventually formed a musical group S.H.E., with her sisters, but that was also short-lived.
Sadly, like so many others on this list, substance abuse took hold of her young life and put her through the wringer, eventually causing her to turn to the porn industry.
Things sort of worked themselves out, and she became pregnant. Unfortunately, she was forced to get a restraining order against her long-time boyfriend due to physical and verbal abuse but, in the strangest twist of all, she took him back, as she believes that she was given a second chance in life, and she should give that same chance to others.
Can you think of any other child stars who sadly lost their innocence at a very young age? Let us know in the comments.