Top 10 Self-Destructive Child Actors

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Can you have much too much, much too young? These ten junior celebrities are proof that yes, you can. From drug and drink addictions to car and relationship wrecks, fame can spoil even the youngest souls. Fortunately, some child stars have overcome their destructiveness, whereas others are fading away, and may more have burnt out completely.

10. Haley Joel Osment

Hayley nearly did see dead people when he flipped his car in July 2006 driving under the influence of alcohol and in possession of marijuana. The LA born star, who made his debut in Forrest Gump aged just six, is best known for his harrowing performance in Sixth Sense and, despite his brush with the law, is still a successful actor, most recently in the heart-warming tale, Home of the Giants. Haley is at the top of the list for being, thankfully, the least self-destructive young actor of the bunch. After his misdemeanor, he paid his fines and did his time, which were $1500 and 26 AA meetings respectively.

9. The Two Coreys

Corey Haim (article written before Haim’s death on March 10, 2010) and Corey Feldman starred in films together, grew up together and then, took drugs together. After their paring in The Lost Boys, the duo shared success in another couple of films, License to Drive and Dream a Little Dream, until Corey fever ran dry. They went their separate ways to seek their own successes, but the booze and pills followed. Haim was hooked on a number of prescription pills, gained a load of weight, lost a load of teeth and made several flop films. Feldman, the more commercially successful of the two as a star in the Goonies, Stand by Me (with fellow child car-crash River Phoenix) and as the voice of Donatello in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, also battled drug problems. A brief reunion on their A&E Network reality show ended in tears, when Feldman declared he wanted nothing more to do with the still-drug-addled Haim.

8. Edward Furlong

Edward, more commonly known as John Connor from Terminator 2 or Danny Vinyard from American History X, blamed celebdom’s easy access to drugs and money for his long-standing addictions. His antics under the influence, including driving drunk without a license and stealing lobsters from a grocery store, have landed him in handcuffs and addiction clinics numerous times. Now, married with a child, he hasn’t been to rehab in a while, yet with rumors of addiction still rife, it’s possible he’ll be back.

7. Tatum O’Neal

Tatum still holds the title of the youngest actor to win an Oscar at age ten for her role in Paper Moon. Perhaps then, she’s testament to the dangers afoot for child stars when you consider her persistent problems with crack and heroin. Along her road of addiction, Tatum had a brief fling with the king of controversy, Michael Jackson, in 1979, who allegedly shied away with nerves whenever she moved in to kiss him. Now, Tatum, whose kids have been taken away, is attending drug treatment programs after an arrest in July 2008.

6. Brad Renfro

On 15 January 2008, the world received the news it had been expecting for years. Aged 25, Brad was found dead in his LA apartment due to an overdose of heroin. Brad’s path to self-destruction began after his intense portrayal of disturbed youngster, Mark Sway, in The Client. The hold that heroin and methadone had on him lead to his arrest and widespread defamation in 2005, and just this year, his tragic death.

5. Jodie Sweetin

Jodie was a young TV darling in the hit sitcom Full House. She didn’t stay sweet’n innocent for long though – due to her raging addiction to beauty ravaging crystal meth. Not only did she loose several teeth, but she also lost her husband, all thanks to her wild, drug addled behavior. It’s only recently, after the birth of her daughter Zoie, that she’s started to settle down and fight her demons.

4. Olsen Twins

The curse of Full House didn’t stop there. The twig-like twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley, have been rather more discreet in their self-destructive ways. They hit fame after their various Mary-Kate and Ashley films and merchandise under the Dualstar brand, but constant exposure to the limelight did funny things to them. Mary-Kate checked into rehab in 2004 suffering from anorexia and rumored drug problems and Ashley has appeared in celebrity rags bleary-eyed from wild nights out. Most recently, Mary-Kate was caught up in the curious circumstances surrounding Heath Ledger’s untimely death. Rumor had it that Mary-Kate was dating Heath at the time, and some have even said she supplied him with the drugs. That would certainly explain why the masseuse that found Heath called the troubled twin twice before dialing 911.

3. Macaulay Culkin

After starring in numerous family films, such as Uncle Buck, Home Alone and Richie Rich, young master Culkin was desperate to grow up and shed his child actor skin. He did this by estranging his parents, marrying a girl he’d just met when he was 18, and developing quite a craving for marijuana and prescription pills. These days, he’s happy playing abstract, and some may say semi-biographical roles in cult films such as Party Monster. There’s not much else to do when you’re the highest paid child actor of all time.

2. Drew Barrymore

The world was aghast when cutesy Gertie in E.T grew up hard and fast and turned into a crazed addict. The press hounded young Drew as she puffed on her first cigarette aged nine, was boozing aged eleven and getting stoned at twelve. She was hooked on cocaine before she barely hit her teens and had been into teen drug rehab twice before the age of 14. Once she kicked the drugs, she developed another habit – stripping off – famously baring her breasts to Dave Letterman. Now in her thirties, Drew has mellowed, and although she still admits to being keen on lady love, is happily single and sober.

1. River Phoenix

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River’s death by speedball overdose came as a huge shock – his extracurricular activities were completely unknown to the public. The celebrity circuit went into mourning for the young star and tributes came in the form of songs (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, R.E.M), film credits (Interview With a Vampire) and books (Pink – Gus Van Sant). Aged just 23, River had racked up numerous starring roles in Stand By Me, Running On Empty and My Own Private Idaho. Sadly, his troubled childhood, which was blighted by poverty, brainwashing in a cult and unusual family affairs, encouraged him to use drugs as a fatal escape.


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47 Comments

    • I agree Superb list.

      But I’m not sure how Dana Plato & others who actually losed their lifes aren’t mentioned. I understand they want to list just well known child actors.
      I mentioned this on another post & I’ll briefly mention it here. I worked mostly as a child actor during my teenage yrs. I didn’t have to be secluded with a private tudor, because of my lack of work as a child actor I was able to go to a public school and hang out with my friends. I also got work playing a teenager while in my 20’s and eventually stopped acting around 30 yrs old because of the lack of work I was getting.
      As an adult, I deplore children working as a child actor & MISSING out on being a CHILD! I would never allow one of my children after what I have seen, to become a child actor. Take my word for it, because I seen it first hand, People don’t realize how incredibly addicting acting is on TV and on the big screen, ESPECIALLY to a child actor who all of a sudden after being so successful is now out of work and some of them when they were very successful think in their own young mind they can do whatever they want-spoiled- because of the way people look up to them.

      But, when acting is taken away from a successful child actor because they aren’t getting work anymore & that’s some thing you only know, & you don’t know anything else & again ESPECIALLY when you were a very well known child actor, it’ll destroy you. In your still young mind, you feel you’re a has been, a nobody &nobody cares about you anymore. Unfortunately, this child actor was put in a postion at one time, where they were looked upon as a hero-somebody very special to their many fans & poof just like that it’s all gone & they are still young & unfortunately too many are also very lost!

  1. This list is okay, but you missed some real biggies, including Rusty Hamer, the poster child for all self-destructive child actors and who, by the way, should be #1 on this list. Haley Joel shouldn't even be on here — one driving under the influence? Give me a break. Here's what happened to Rusty Hamer, who played Danny Thomas's little boy on the TV show "Make Room for Daddy":

    "…and in 1964 Hamer, at age 17, found himself out of work for the first time. The talented kid had become an awkward teen and the offers dried up immediately. He left Hollywood and came back only once for "Make Room for Granddaddy" (1970) in 1971. The show was not a success and nothing else came his way. The aimless, embittered man left for good this time and his life quickly fell apart. Left with no job skills, he found obtaining work extremely difficult and found himself living a rather wanderlust lifestyle working on everything from oil rigs to cafes. He spiraled into deep depression, alcohol and poverty that led to an increasingly violent and delusional state. He shot himself to death in 1990 at the age of 42, chalking up another child star statistic who met a tragic, untimely end."

    You missed another biggie too — Carl Switzer, who played "Alfalfa" in the Little Rascals series in the 1940's. A bit on him:

    Although one of the most popular members of "Our Gang," Switzer's later life became an almost textbook example of the former child star whose life takes a turn for the worse. Numerous brushes with the law, a broken marriage, and grade-Z film work (when he could get it) all led up to his sudden, violent death in January 1959 at the age of only 31."

    There are others. Need to do a little more historical research and not concentrate so much on talentless pop sensations like the Olsen twins.

    • Excellent commentary! I would love to see a list of yours. The stories of Carl Switzer and Ruster Hamer are MUCH more stirring and sad than — The Olsen Twins? They’re gajillionaires and they party too much. Not exactly what one would call self-destructive behavior. Dana Plato could have easily been on this list as well.

      • By very definition of self destructive behavior partying too much definatley qualifies them for this list. Think out your responses carefully before you post it. Internet privelages for you two are hereby revoked. Now go!

        Haley Joel Osment really does not belong.

  2. Thanks Bob, for the additional information. These lists are for entertainment purposes so give the author's a little slack. These posts are creative for fun so there is less subjectivity than you are likely to find elsewhere.

    I do agree the Olsen twins have no more talent that 85% of the rest of humanity. Right place, right time and an obsessive mother.

  3. Of what I hear, Drew Barrymore is not sober. She has been in bars a lot here lately, sometimes very late drinking. Some people have clamed to have seen her using cocaine. Once in October 07 and once in July 08. There is also a photo of her passing a joint taken in 2/ 07.

  4. LINDSY LOHAN SHOULD BE A DEFINATLEY #1 OR TOP 5 UP HERE LIKE SERIOUSLY YA LIKE LINDSY IS A DEFINATE KEEPER U NEED TO UPDATE YOUR LIST!!!!!!!!

  5. Graham Eldridge on

    I disagree with the Olsen twins. Anorexia is a mental disease. She does not mean to do it to herself. Oh and those were rumored drug problems. Rumors aren't always true. Mary Kate did not supply drugs to Heath Ledger. He could have been dating her but was not supplying drugs. Heath was suffering from pneumonia at the time and accidentally took an overdose of his medication prescribed by a doctor.

  6. Osment? Are you kidding me? How about any of the three kids from Diff'rent Strokes, especially the very *dead* Dano Plato and all the pathos that surrounds her descent into her own personal Hell? You definitely dropped the ball on this one!

  7. This list was awful. Child stars were screwing up far earlier than the 80's. Look at Jay North (Dennis the Manace), Stanley Fafara (Whitey from Leave it to Beaver, who managed to straighten himself out a few years before he died), there are of dozens of more tragic stories of self destruction than many on your list, who are still making millions of dollars and working.

  8. as others stated, haley joel osment? one dui? hell id rather have done the week in jail over 26 AA meetings myself.

    Alfalfa also came to my mind immedietly. altho it was funny in the simpsons ep. where moe was a little rascal and killed "the original" alflafa. someone even exclaimed: "O No youve killed the original alfalfa."

    poor kid actors like gary coleman paved the way for laws that let the olsen twins keep their fortune w/they became of age.

  9. WildStuffToCareAbout on

    Well Corey Haim is now Dead. 03/02/10 RIP. Oops…..a typo was made in his last name in this story.

  10. Anissa Jones from "Family Affair" (show from the mid 60's to early 70's, was found dead at a friends house from a cocktail of drugs including cocaine and angel dust among others. She was a very depressed young lady after failure to move on after the show and serious family issues. She was only 18 when she died.

    • Anissa Jones is an excellent example. And the topic is great. Unfortunately, the maker of this list is far too young and uninformed to appreciate the subject matter.

  11. What many people don't remember is that Robert Downey Jr. was a child actor, albeit in very, very odd films (most notably Greaser's Palace). As for the self-destructive part, that goes without saying.

  12. this article is obviously old. Like seriously, there are missing sooo much ppl like Linsey Lohan, kids from Different strokes, and anissa Jones. Rip Gary coleman.

    • I think it’s more that the listmaker tried to keep it current instead of featuring historical child actors who have exhibited self-destructive behavior. Maybe they didn’t know about Anissa or Rusty or any of the older child actors who REALLY went through some drama. Partying and one DUI do not a destructive life make.

  13. Tatum O’Neal may have chosen to turn to drugs, but I think it's important to know that she had been molested by her father's friend from an early age, and on top of the sexual abuse her father had tormented her emotionally.

    Similarly River Phoenix was molested in the cult his crazy parents had decided to partake in.

  14. Bob Canter and rookgaroo are right. i couldn't agree with them more.. also Corey Haim should be moved up on the list now that he died.. and take Feldman off the list, he's sorted his life out. its not fair to judge that guy anymore… someone also mentioned Jonathon Brandis. i totally agree.- culkin, Hailey Joel and the Olsen twins must be removed from the list entirely. possibly Furlong too. they have no place on this list.. and Drew at # 2? honestly….

  15. How in the world was Dana Plato (Different Strokes) get left off the list? The woman robbed a convenience store, and later died of an overdose. Some people who knew her well say she was doing well and wouldn’t have killed herself. And to make the story even sadder, her son committed suicide on the 11th anniversary of her death.

  16. I dont think Jodi Sweetin is actually clean now. I heard she was just saying that to get interviews to buy more drugs.

  17. Where is bobby Driscoll in this list?? He was a child actor who died at the age of 31 after a heroine overdose. He was the voice of Peter pan….

  18. Trent Lehman, Butch from The Nanny and the Professor. Another suicide by hanging. At the age of 20. I agree list maker must have been too young to know about many of them.

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