What do Sarah Jessica Parker, Ron Howard, Linda Blair, Drew Barrymore, Natalie Portman, Matt Dillon, and Jessica Biel have in common? Well, they were all at one point, child stars. But not all child stars became A-list celebrities like these actors.
Celebrity children come in all shapes and sizes; some probably couldn’t wish for a better life, while others will grow up to regret their childhood. And many of them have strange names that seem to be derived from made-up languages.
Let’s take a look at the success stories and the not-so-successful stories. Some children are famous because of their famous parents and some children find fame on their own, but whatever the case, attention from the media and public, coupled with immense wealth, can have profound effects on a youngster, especially if there isn’t a parent on guard to keep him or her grounded in reality.
So, what will little Suri (the new baby girl of parents Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes) grow up to be like? What about young actress Dakota Fanning will she look back on her childhood memories from the set of War of the Worlds positively or negatively? To make a good guess here, one can only look at former child stars, not current ones. And based on this, it’s expect that some celebrity children will thrive, others will fall of the edge, and a probably a good chunk of them will have an equal amount of ups and downs.
Some of cable network VH1’s most popular television specials are shows like ‘I Love the 80’s’ and ‘The 100 Greatest Kid Stars.’ People love to find out what happened to former child stars (like the young actors who made up the cast of ‘The Brady Bunch’). And the answer to the question VH1 so often likes to ask where are they now? has more than a few answers: some former child stars have grown up to be superstars, while others were either shooed out of the spotlight or volunteered to exit it.
The children who are famous merely because they have a mom and/or a dad with a hit record or a move that stars them are difficult to study. They are not nearly as accessible in the media as children who make a name for themselves based on their own resumes. There are a handful of celebrity children who choose to enter the spotlight or make a name for themselves as adults, and certainly nepotism can have a lot to do with their successes. Nicole Richie (Lionel Richie’s daughter) is merely famous for her blood and being friends with Paris Hilton, a friendship that landed her a starring role in the popular series ‘The Simple Life.’ Other celebrity children grew up to be talented performers in their own right. For instance, Kiefer Sutherland, who plays Jack Bauer in the hit television show ‘24,’ likely wouldn’t have broken into the entertainment business if it weren’t for the success of his father, actor Donald Sutherland.
For the most part, however, in order to determine what fame and money can do to a child, one really can only look at child stars, not the children of stars (who are kept from the gaze of paparazzi for the most part).
Many famous performers today kick started their successful Hollywood careers at a very young age. Natalie Portman, Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner, and star of popular movies like Garden State and Star Wars boldly introduced herself to audiences when she was not yet 15-years-old. Her lead performances in The Professional and Beautiful Girls quickly got her foot in the door of the entertainment business and her degree from Harvard University and wildly successful acting career has cemented her as one of the most successful ‘child star’ stories out there.
Other actors, like Drew Barrymore, ended up with successful movie careers, but only after a few rocky years. Barrymore was adored by all when she played Elliot’s baby sister in Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, but she began abusing drugs and alcohol at a young age and has now admitted that she was an at-risk teenager. Fortunately, she made a comeback and could be considered the Meg Ryan of the millennium.
But not all child stars move on to impressive careers in their adulthood or make it through the dark side of the entertainment industry alive. River Phoenix, for instance, the young actor who astonished critics with his daring performance in Stand By Me, died of a drug overdose at the age of 23, just before his film career was really taking off. Other former child stars died similarly tragic, unexpected deaths, including Jonathan Brandis (‘Seaquest’) and Judy Garland.
Currently, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, the twins who shared camera time on the popular family television show ‘Full House’ and acted, sung, and danced in a series of their own videos (which also spawned wildly lucrative merchandising) that are still popular among young girls today, are one the more notorious examples of child stars gone wayward. Or at least Mary-Kate Olsen is, as she took time off from her schooling at New York University to find treatment for her eating disorder. In fact, eating disorders seem to commonly plague young starlets. Both Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff, popular teenybopper actresses and singers, have been accused of anorexia. Furthermore, Haley Joel Osmant, the little boy who saw dead people in The Sixth Sense, recently flipped his car over under the influence of alcohol. It seems that dangerously heavy partying is not uncommon among those who met fame at an early age.
Many child stars lead healthy, productive lives today, but have mixed feelings about their childhood spent under the spotlight. They had to cope with a competitive business and adult situations they may not have been prepared for and many of them had trouble transitioning from child roles to adult roles and hence, struggled with depression when a once adoring public didn’t buy their new, mature selves.
The popular 1980’s duo of Corey Feldman and Corey Haim, the hunky young actors who co-stared in many teen flicks together, both are infamous for spiraling into a cycle of drug and alcohol abuse and only Feldman, really, has stayed in the public limelight since. But even he can’t seem to achieve the same amount of popularity he had during his heyday, where he starred in films like The Goonies, Stand By Me, and The Lost Boys.
Many former child stars ended up with regular old careers in real estate and teaching. Others got behind the camera, like director Ron Howard. Some, like Michael Jackson and Robert Blake, on the other hand, have been through the ringer with the legal system. Others have been outright arrested, sometimes multiple times, like Danny Bonaduce (‘The Partridge Family’) and Gary Coleman (‘Diff’rent Strokes’).
Some went the complete opposite direction of their peers and found religion, not jail time, like Kirk Cameron (‘Growing Pains’) and Willie Aames (‘Eight is Enough’).
So there are many different roads to and from child stardom but they all offer distinctly different experiences than those that a normal child would experience. Not only are there logistical differences when a child is involved in the entertainment business, in that their school schedule is disrupted, but they must deal with a level of fame and wealth that most adults would not even know how to deal with!
Sometimes celebrity children are exploited by greedy parents or movie and record studios. But even if that is not the case, celebrity children with even the most well-intentioned parents still are making money, and lots of money, and are part of a business, while their peers are only concerned with doing their homework and perhaps practicing piano. They also spend a lot of time around powerful, influential adults, whereas other children their age only spend time with teachers, classmates, and family members. This means that celebrity children may engage in certain practices well before they are ready to like drinking alcohol and having sex. As well, they have strangers who come up to them on the street asking for autographs. The average child can only rely on their own family members to give them such adoring attention!
Thus, it is inevitable that celebrity children grow up quite differently than regular children. But the experience of having lots of fame and wealth at a young age can be a great thing or a dangerous thing plenty of child stars capitalized on it as they grew into adulthood, but too many others failed at this or were completely turned off from the entertainment industry altogether. Will Suri be an actress when she grows up? Will Dakota Family enter drug rehab by her 16th birthday? We can only wait and see and cross our fingers that the celebrity children of today, or at least their parents, can learn from the celebrity children of yesterday.