TV Tropes Tuesday: TV Tropes: Former Child Star

We’ve all seen stories of actors and singers who were popular when they were children.  However, they were unable to reproduce their success as adults.  Some of them disappeared into obscurity.  Others became more well-known for their personal struggles.

There are many reasons why many child stars fall into hard times.  In fact, Mara Wilson, a former child star, best known for the films, Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire, wrote an article on, explaining why many child stars fall into hard times.

1.  Wilson began by saying that many parents of child stars do not help their kids and instead, they exploit them.  While that was not her experience, many children are forced into show business by their parents; Wilson chose to be an actress and retired as a teenager by choice as well.  They are not allowed to have normal childhoods, and are often treated as money sources for their parents.  A big example of exploitation is when parents steal their children’s earnings for themselves.  Back in the 1930s, a young actor by the name of Jackie Coogan was one of the most popular child stars.  When he became an adult he learned that his mother and stepfather had spent all of his money.  This led to the Coogan Act being passed in the state of California, which while better than nothing, only protects 15% of a child star’s earnings, and there are still ways for parents to screw their children out of their money.

2.  Wilson continued by saying that sometimes, parents CAN’T help their kids.  She has personal experience of this as well.  She attended the premiere of the film Nine Months, starring Hugh Grant and Julianne Moore, and was interviewed by a journalist asking her about the then recent scandal involving Grant and prostuttes.  Her father complained to the radio station that employed the journalist, but he was blown off.  Wilson says that illustrates how if one’s child is a star, the people who have control over them are the studio/record company and their entourage.  She says this often leads to bad behavior on the part of the child stars, due to being controlled by people who do not have their best interests at heart.

3.  Perhaps a common reason is the fact that child stars are often treated, not as human beings with rights and feelings and needs, but instead as objects that are discarded once they pass their shelf lives.  They get used to being popular, but then once they get too old and are no longer cute and become awkward-looking teenagers (often, the child actors who most successfully transition to adult stardom are the ones who are cute kids who grow up into attractive adults) , they are forgotten about and replaced by younger kids who then take their place in captivating the world with their cuteness.  Children often don’t understand that many situations in life are only temporary.  They think that what’s happening to them will always happen.  When it stops, it’s often hard for them to cope.  This can lead to destructive behaviors.

4.  Tragically, as Wilson points out in her next point, many child stars are sexually exploited.  She was as well.  As pre-teen, she found photos of her on a foot fetish site, and thought it was hilarious since she was too young to understand all of the ramifications of sex and sexual abuse and the like.  She only finally understood as an adult.  However, lots of child stars have it worse.  Many have been raped.  Others are forced to have overtly sexual images when they don’t even have enough of an understanding of their own sexualities.  Of course, sexual exploitation often causes severe trauma and many survivors of it turn to destructive behaviors in order to cope.

5.  Many child stars want to rebel, or even NEED to rebel, like most normal kids.  However doing so can ruin their images.  Things like wearing somewhat revealing clothing or going to parties can cause scandals and accusations of being bad role models.  When they get older and can do things without being accused of setting bad examples for children, they often do bad things are far worse, due to having more means than most people and not knowing how to make their own decisions because they grew up having people controlling their every moves.  And due to being in the public eye, people know about their activities.

6.  Many child stars fall into bad times because they don’t know what else to do.  While minor entertainers are required to receive education (many have private tutors who educate them on the sets of their productions), many don’t pursue college education after finishing high school.  They continue show business if they can because since they’ve done for a large chunk, if not most of their lives, it’s all they’ve every known; they often can’t just stop.

7.  Finally, many child stars can’t escape their pasts.  It always affects them.  They may be embarrassed because of how far they might have fallen.  They might feel that everything they do in the present and in the future will follow them for the rest of their lives.  There is the struggle of being accused of  being accused of being has-beens trying to regain relevance by bringing up their pasts or being in denial if decline to talk about it; they may also be torn between being accused of lying if they say they enjoyed being a child star and being accused of being ungrateful if they say it was a miserable time for them.  Former child stars don’t know how to move on, a lot of the time.

TV Tropes has a variety of examples of child stars in fiction and in real life who either fell into hard times after growing up or who managed to have successful adult career.


Real Life instances:

  • As a musical example, Britney Spears has fallen on this hard. Though her musical career has rebounded, her personal life and reputation are a massive train wreck, with her remaining in the conservatorship of her father.
  • Lindsay Lohan… Oh dear. It was a mix of her personality (even as a child) and her parents that eventually demolished anything she had left resembling a professional career.
  • Justin Bieber started out as a sweet little boy singing songs on YouTube. Then, he blew up and became a superstar. His ego soon followed and now he’s more known for his drinking, partying and love of strippers/prostitutes than singing.
  • The famous child acting duo Corey Feldman and Corey Haim both had meltdowns for adult lives. Eventually it claimed Corey Haim’s life. Corey Feldman has survived fairly well, but unfortunately that’s all we ever hear of him doing anymore.
  • Brian Bonsall, who played baby brother Andy Keaton on Family Ties and Worf’s son Alexander on Star Trek: The Next Generation has been arrested several times for assault and drug possession.
  • Macaulay Culkin became a star after Home Alone. Twenty years later, it still is his most important role.
    • However, it deserves noting that this is largely by choice, as he had a Stage Dad who forced him into role after role without taking a break, wanting to maximize on his son’s bankability. Culkin understandably got burned out on his desire to act after that.
  • Edward Furlong, despite solid performances in American History X and a couple of other movies, is still remembered as a juvenile John Connor.
  • For some time, Jake Lloyd seemed to be very bitter and cynical about his role as Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace, but when you have gone through high-school and college with people constantly accusing you of ruining Star Wars, it is pretty hard to not to. However, a later interview between him and a Star Wars fansite has shown that he’s mellowed out since then and confirms that – contrary to popular belief – he does not hate the franchise after all the harassment.
  • Michael Jackson was ultimately a bigger star as an adult solo act, but didn’t completely subvert this trope. The abuse he suffered under his dad’s thumb as a child star warped him so badly that once he was able to stand on his own, he became obsessed with finally having a happy childhood in his private life. Thus, most of his adult pursuits and hobbies were juvenile and a way for him to “live as a kid” (i.e., the whole Neverland Ranch), and were a big reason he wound up with the Memetic Molester reputation that ruined his career.
  • Mozart was very much like Michael. His parents, and particularly his father Leopold, made him a child prodigy, but more of his popular works date from his later years.
  • Judy Garland had some success into her twenties, still usually playing teenage roles, but she could never really transition into serious adult roles, and once her teenage staredom days were over, it was the beginning of the end for the “little girl with a great big voice.” She developed a drug addiction, which stemmed from being given barbiturates by MGM to keep her active and working longer during her child star years. Her increasing difficulty to work with and nervous breakdowns certainly didn’t help. Two failed comeback-attempts, five marriages, a few suicide attempts, and many health problems (including heavy smoking and drinking) later, she passed away from a barbiturate overdose at the very untimely age of 47 in 1969 (although because of her health problems, she arguably looked at least ten years older).
  • Brad Renfro was 12 when he made his film debut in the critically-acclaimed film The Client, co-starring with Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones. He won The Hollywood Reporter‘s Young Star Award in 1995 went on to appear in the 1998 film Apt Pupil and Ghost World. Sadly, he spiraled into drug and alcohol abuse and died from a heroin overdose at the age of 25.
  • The three lead kid actors on Diff’rent Strokes — Gary Coleman, Todd Bridges, and Dana Plato — became infamous for brushes with the law as adults. Plato ultimately died at 34 of a drug overdose which was ruled a suicide. Gary Coleman, meanwhile, struggled to recover before tragically dying at 42 from head trauma. Bridges, meanwhile, is a regular on TruTV’s The Smoking Gun Presents, along with former Partridge Family cast member Danny Bonaduce, another example of a Former Child Star who fell into serious problems as an adult (both Bridges and Bonaduce appear to be getting their lives on track at this point).
  • Played tragically straight with River Phoenix. He had a skill for acting far beyond anyone else in his generation, but couldn’t cope with the pressures of fame and hated that he was part of a system he despised. in which he was the focus of attention that should have been devoted to causes such as Humanitarian or Animal Rights which he felt strongly about. He turned to drugs and wound up dying of an overdose.
    • Averted with his brother Joaquin, who’s got a pretty good career as an adult.
      • Although Joaquin played up to the trope with his extended breakdown in the fake-autobiographical I’m Still Here.
    • No too straight, though, given that he played his most famous roles as a young adult, despised his stardom and was perfectly aware of dangers it comes with and dying at 23, at the peak of popularity, he had actually little chance to become a Former Child Star.
  • Then there’s the rather sad case of Bobby Driscoll, who was Disney’s golden boy during the 1940s. He was in several Disney movies, and particularly famous for his roles in Song Of The South and Peter Pan, but was abruptly let go in the middle of the 1950s. He was ridiculed in school for being a child star and lapsed into obscurity through drugs. He was found dead and the body wasn’t identified until a year later.
  • And also the equally sad case of Anissa Jones, notable for playing Buffy in Family Affair. When the show ended its run in 1971, she tried to find work in films, but no roles were coming. Brian Keith, who played her uncle on Family Affair, wanted to give her a part in his new TV project, but she no longer wanted to work in TV. Jones later fell into drug addiction, and died in 1976 of an overdose at age 18.
    • One contributing factor to her problems may have been that the producers and writers literally didn’t let her grow up—even though she had hit puberty by the time the series ended, she was still forced to act and appear as a preteen.
  • Other than the Olsen Twins, just about all of the child/teenage actors who starred in Full House have fallen out of the limelight.
    • Jodie Sweetin in particular stands out as an example of this trope played straight. Facing an inability to find further work and a traumatic social life due to being typecast as Stephanie Tanner, she became an alcoholic and a habitual user of marijuana, cocaine, LSD and most famously, meth. However, she seems to have gotten her life back on track, has published a memoir about her drug addiction, and is now seeking a Career Resurrection.
    • Candace Cameron has since bounced back a bit, now appearing on Make It Or Break It. Not as well-known or massive as Full House was in its time, but still a noteworthy performance. A devout Christian like her brother Kirk Cameron (see below), the worst she did was marry young.
  • Leif Garrett is an example of this, a child pop star who got embroiled with drugs and scandals. Currently a commentator on Tru TV‘s Worlds Dumbestalongside fellow Former Child Stars Danny Bonaduce and Todd Bridges.
  • There is an interesting contrast between the two stars of Guest from the FutureNatalia Guseva acted in a few more movies, but decided to become a scientist instead. Now, she not only works as a biochemist, but also is still involved with the fan community, and is raising a daughter. Meanwhile, Alexei Fomkin had a few more roles, but got into drug problems, which caused him to lose roles and spiral further downward. He quit acting and moved to a village, which seemed to be straightening him out. Sadly, he died in 1996 when his apartment burned.
  • Robert Blake also starred in Our Gang comedies (as Mickey Gubitosi), then later starred in In Cold Blood and had the title role on the TV series Baretta, and years later was acquitted of his wife’s murder, but lost a civil wrongful death lawsuit filed by his children.
  • For a while, it looked as though Amanda Bynes was shaping up to be an aversion; she had stated that she didn’t like drinking or going to clubs and instead preferred to hang out at home with family and friends. That changed in 2012, however, when she was involved in several hit-and-run and reckless driving incidents, and continued into a series of increasingly erratic Twitter posts, including asking Drake to “murder her vagina”. She was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia, which explains the behavior, and was on involuntary psychiatric hold for several months in 2013.
  • Former Idol Singer Ai Kago joined Morning Musume, one of the most popular Girl Groups in Japan, at age 12, and her popularity flourished when she was selected to join other units under the Hello! Project name. However, as she grew older, she became dissatisfied with her image and started smoking to feel “older”, though she was underage at that time. As a result of that (and entering a relationship with a man 10 years her senior), she was kicked out of Hello! Project. While she did try to make a comeback, her career has continued to spiral downwards with numerous scandals including having an affair with a married man and dating a man rumored to have ties with the yakuza.


Real Life aversions:

  • Elizabeth Taylor, going from a child star in movies like Lassie Come Home to one of the most famous film actresses ever. Her private life, however, was notably less successful: she was notorious for her large number of weddings and divorces, and was treated for alcoholism and prescription drug addiction.
  • Jodie Foster. First major role was in Taxi Driver as a twelve-year-old child prostitute. Even after the scandal over John Hinckley, she went on to have a very successful career which includes two acting Oscars.
  • Shirley Temple. She went to be happily married for 50 years until her husband’s death, and was an Ambassador for the United States to Czechoslovakia, during the Velvet Revolution. Also, during the 1968 Soviet Crackdown on Czechoslovakia, she led over 700 people to the border and got them through because the guards were fans of her.
  • Jackie Cooper starred in some Our Gang comedies and was still a successful actor, director, and producer, most famous on screen as Perry White in theSuperman film series starring Christopher Reeve.
  • Bill Mumy of Lost in Space. His parents took care that he grew up properly during his career as a child, including carefully investing his pay, and he became a successful musician (his comedy pop band Barnes & Barnes is responsible for that “Fish Heads” song) and a reasonably busy actor who even got another juicy sci-fi TV role as Lennier in Babylon 5.
    • His daughter Liliana is also making it well as a cartoon voice actress (most notably as the voice of Panini in Chowder), and even played alongside her dad in the sequel to “It’s a Good Life”, “It’s Still a Good Life”, on the second revival of The Twilight Zone.
  • Dean Stockwell averts this big time, starting as a child star in the 1940s, and continuing to work steadily for the next sixty-five years, being best known as Al on Quantum Leap and Cavil on the rebooted Battlestar Galactica.
  • The child cast of The Wonder Years have all managed to do well as adults: Fred Savage is a director and producer along with occasional acting, Danica McKellar is an author and mathematician when not acting, and Josh Saviano (Paul) is an attorney.
    • Although Saviano has been the subject of the famous myth that he became Marilyn Manson when he grew up which he has found very amusing
  • Christian Bale. He rose to fame as a child actor in films like Empire of the Sun and his Old Shame Newsies, but truly came into his own in American Psycho and is now best known as Batman from The Dark Knight Saga, and won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work in The Fighter.
  • Danny Bonaduce has made an entire career out of being a washed-up ex-child-star. He makes a point of stating that he would have turned into a drug-addicted Jerk Ass with or without his role on The Partridge Family, so he can be seen as an aversion of sorts.
  • Natalie Wood. Starred in Miracle on 34th Street aged 8, but successfully adapted to ‘grown-up’ parts in her teens with Rebel Without a Cause and The Searchers and is barely remembered as a child star at all. The only significant scandal to happen to her stems from her death (she drowned off the coast of Santa Catalina Island, the exact circumstances remaining unknown to this day).
  • Natalie Portman. Her first big role was at the age of 11/12 in The Professional, and she has been far more successful as an adult, starring in the Star Warsprequel films, V for VendettaBlack Swan (which won her an Oscar) and Thor. Like Emma Watson below, Portman taking a career break to go to college (and Harvardno less) may have had something to do with it. Like Christian Bale, she also won an Oscar, for Best Actress, for her role in Black Swan.
  • Kirsten Dunst. Her first big role was in Interview with the Vampire at 12 then Jumanji when she was 14, but she went on to a string of critically acclaimed and commercially successful roles in the Spiderman films, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindMarie Antoinette, and Melancholia, which won her the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011.
  • Speaking of Christmas movies, Peter Billingsley from A Christmas Story grew up to be a successful director and producer. And he’s quite handsome, too.
  • Ron Howard. Starting out as Opie on The Andy Griffith Show and Richie Cunningham on Happy Days, he went on to direct films like Apollo 13A Beautiful Mind and Frost/Nixon (not to mention his involvement in Arrested Development).
    • Howard is, however, still an Acceptable Target in comedy for how his appearance has aged horribly.
  • Clint Howard, like his older brother Ron above, has averted the label, as he’s been working fairly consistently. Although the early Eighties were a lean period, he’s managed at least one film or television appearance a year since 1962, when he was three years old.
  • Neil Patrick Harris is a notable aversion: after spending his teens on Doogie Howser, M.D., he worked steadily as a guest star on TV and on Broadway. But his career really took off after he did a cameo in Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle — ironically enough, playing a lecherous, drug-addled version of himself. He’s now best known to present-day audiences as the womanizing Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother, as well as Dr. Horrible from Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.
  • The main cast of the Harry Potter movies seem to have avoided the worst aspects of child acting. Having begun acting between the ages of nine and eleven, they’ve shown steady development for over a decade and a total of eight films without any major misbehaviors or prima donna-ism. By all reports, all seem genuinely well-adjusted and mature.
    • Daniel Radcliffe, apart from his role as the title character, has starred in the stage play Equus and was critically acclaimed for his performance. He has since begun slowly branching out into other film and stage productions.
      • He did have a spot of trouble on the later films, by his own admission becoming an alcoholic and doing most of the Deathly Hallows production drunk. He now abstains from alcohol.
    • Rupert Grint‘s major claim to eccentricity is owning an ice cream truck, saying that if his career after the Harry Potter movies are finished falls through, he can always fall back on a career as an ice cream man. A fairly mild indulgence for a multimillionaire, all things considered.
    • As for Emma Watson… well, let’s face it, there’s no way anyone as good looking as her won’t get at least a few more major roles in her career. Much like her character, she has done very well in school work and has since decided that, after her work with the movie series is done, she’ll take a career break to finish her college degree like Natalie Portman did. As of 2014, Watson graduated from Brown University with a degree in English Literature.
      • Film critic Leonard Maltin famously said that Watson was in “the early stages of babehood”. Now that she’s most certainly an adult and effectively an adult actress, she is considered to have reached that milepost.
    • As a side note, Chris Columbus, who directed the first two Potter films, previously directed Home Alone. As he has discussed in interviews, Columbus is unhappy with how Macaulay Culkin turned out and considers this partly his fault. When casting the Potter kids, he was determined to avoid the same mistakes and tried to cast children with stable home lives.
  • Phil Collins. Though he was a child model/actor who played The Artful Dodger in a West End production of Oliver! and had teeny tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-him roles in A Hard Day’s Night and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, his musical success as an adult (both in Genesis and as a solo act) far eclipsed his success as a child actor/model.
    • Another aversion: early productions of Oliver! featured Steve Marriott in the titular role. Marriott infuriated his family by choosing music over acting, given that he’d already established success, but went on to be the extremely popular frontman for Small Faces and Humble Pie.
  • Whit Hertford was a fairly popular child actor and voice actor appearing in works like Jurassic ParkFull House, and Tiny Toon Adventures, he came back into show business having a successful career as an actor, writer, and director.
  • After a successful career as a child, which included an Oscar for her role in The PianoAnna Paquin transitioned to adulthood easily, finding her best work on T.V.
  • Averted with Sarah Jessica Parker, who started her career as Annie on Broadway and Square Pegs, then made the transition to adult star with plenty of movie roles…and then she starred in Sex and the City
  • Sean Astin transitioned fairly well from child actor to adult actor.
  • Jennifer Connelly went a long way from being a young girl in Labyrinth to being the respectable adult actress she is today.
  • Thomas Sangster, from such films as Love Actually and Nanny McPhee, has had success beyond his cute little boy image, in films as diverse as Hitler: The Rise of Evil and Tristan and Isolde. Sangster also played young Paul McCartney in Nowhere Boy.
  • Back in the 1910s, at the Vitagraph film studio, there was a local kid from Brooklyn named Harry Horowitz who enjoyed hanging out there. Harry was charming and a natural ham, and the Vitagraph people began putting him in films, making him a child star. Young Harry would grow up to be one of the most violent and abusive men in the world: Moe Howard of The Three StoogesBut it’s an aversion too.
  • Stefan Brogren has come as close as anyone to being a Real Life version of SCTV’s Rusty by playing the role of Archie “Snake” Simpson in every incarnation of the Degrassi franchise since 1987 while taking on an ever larger role behind the camera. His character, however, has aged and progressed from student to teacher to principal of the titular High School, while the show’s hiatus coincides with the period the character would’ve been getting his degree.
  • Justin Timberlake started off early, as a performer on The New Mickey Mouse Club (other cast members included his fellow *NSYNC bandmate JC Chasez, Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera). After departing from *NSYNC, he’s gone on to have a successful solo music career, and has appeared in films like The Social Network.
  • Elijah Wood started off as a modestly successful child actor, appearing in such films as Back to the Future: Part IIThe Good Son, and North. It wasn’t until starring in Peter Jackson’s take on Lord of the Rings that his adult career really kicked off.
  • Blake Foster has been doing alright since his time as Justin Stewart, and while Justin was decried by many back then, there are plenty who wouldn’t mind having him return.
  • Mara Wilson had a pretty peaceful life despite going out of the spotlight. Nowadays she works as a stage actress, writes a humorous blog, guest stars on a weird podcast and calls out internet reviewers. And is a good enough sport to costar in a review of Matilda with The Nostalgia Chick.
  • Frankie Muniz may still be remembered mostly as Malcolm and Agent Cody Banks, but he went on to achieve decent success as a professional racecar driver and as a musician, is currently engaged and seems to be leading a fulfilling life despite his semi-retirement from Hollywood.
  • Roddy McDowall started as a child actor, but also had a long career as a character actor, most famously as the regular player in the Planet of the Apesseries and was a successful photographer too.
  • Hideko Takamine.
  • Hayden Panettiere was successful as a child actress (Guiding LightOne Life to LiveRemember the Titans), and hasn’t exactly become the next Lindsay Lohan since (thanks to Heroes and to a lesser extent (in terms of ratings if not critical praise) Nashville).
  • Jenny Agutter had her first film role in East of Sudan at twelve and went on to star as Bobbie in The Railway Children both on film and television, as well as roles in Walkabout and The Snow Goose. She has worked consistently and without trouble ever since, transitioning to adult roles in Logan’s Run and An American Werewolf in London and going on to play lead and supporting roles all over film, television, theatre, and radio. She’s been married to Johan Tham, a Swedish hotelier, since 1990 and currently stars as Sister Julienne on Call the Midwife.
  • Alisan Porter took a break from acting after playing Curly Suebriefly struggled with addiction, made a comeback in the mid-2000s with performing on Broadway and with her own band, and has been (so far) Happily Married with a child since 2012.
  • Kurt Russell started acting during the late ’50s (before he was even ten-years-old), doing various parts in TV and movies for the next decade. By the ’70s, he was an adult and still going strong, even having a ten-year contract with Disney. Robert Osborne once noted that Russell was the biggest star the studio had at this time. Afterwards, Russell would later successfully transition to more adult fare and has been working ever since.
  • The parents of Jill Whelan, who had a small part in Airplane! and a starring role on The Love Boat, made sure to avert this. In one episode of The Brian And Jill Show she relates a story in which a producer on the set of a film she was in told her that if she didn’t like anyone they could be fired. Her mother responded by telling the producer that if he ever put that much power in a child’s hands again they would walk.
  • Jeff Cohen, who played Chunk in The Goonies, left the movie business after puberty, but reemerged on its business side. Goonies director Richard Donnerhelped Cohen get summer jobs at movie studios while he was attending Berkeley, which led him to pursue a law degree at UCLA. He’s now a name partner in a Beverly Hills entertainment law boutique.note 
  • Charlie Korsmo, who most notably appeared in Dick TracyWhat About Bob?, and Hook, only had one film role after that (Can’t Hardly Wait, shot when he was 19) and then left entertainment for good. He got a physics degree at MIT and worked at the EPA and on Capitol Hill before going to law school at Yale. Now professionally known as Charles Korsmo, he’s a law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
  • Stevie Wonder started as “Little Stevie Wonder” and had some hits in his teens, but then went on to become one of the biggest singers of the 1970s.


Real Life subversions:

  • Up until a few years ago, Jackie Earle Haley was the embodiment of this trope, having starred in ’70s hits The Bad News Bears and Breaking Away, but then failing to make the transition to adult roles and quit acting for 13 years. However, in 2006 he returned to Hollywood and after playing supporting roles in the remake of All the King’s Men and Little Children (and getting an Oscar nomination in the latter), he starred in Watchmen as Rorschach, signed a multi-picture deal to star as Freddy Krueger in the rebooted A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), and co-starred on Human Target. He’s been keeping busy with roles in the film version of Dark Shadows and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.
  • Once famous as a child actor in Sweden and the son of a famous actor, Alexander Skarsgård gave up acting for quite a while until returning a decade later and becoming famous for roles on True Blood and Generation Kill.
  • At one point, Drew Barrymore was the epitome of the bad end of this trope; at the age of 15, she already went through smoking cigarettes and pot, drinking, doing cocaine, attempting suicide, and staying in rehab twice. However, she eventually sobered up and became a successful adult actress.
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt took a breather from acting after playing Tommy on 3rd Rock from the Sun. Since he resumed his career, he’s won raves in just about every project he’s done.
  • Something similar can be said of Wil Wheaton and his role as Wesley. But he grew up pretty well of it.
  • Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett are subversions as well, now much better known for their indie rock band Rilo Kiley then their pasts as child actors.
  • Jackie Coogan starred with Charlie Chaplin as The Kid, sued his parents for squandering his film earnings before he became an adult (which led to the California Child Actor’s Bill, AKA the Coogan Act), and much later became known as TV’s Uncle Fester.
  • Mayim Bialik of Blossom famously went to school and got a PhD in Neuroscience, becoming Dr. Mayim Bialik. She had quit acting for some time and decided to ease back into the business by auditioning for some random roles. One of those roles happened to be for a show that celebrated higher education and she got the part of neurobiologist Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler in The Big Bang Theory.
  • Anna Chmlusky of My Girl fame took a break in 1998 to concentrate on her studies. Seven years later, she returned to acting, eventually getting a role onVeep in 2012.
  • Demi Lovato was, around 2010, one of the defining examples of the stereotypical image of the Disney Channel‘s teen idols, particularly in terms of them having messed-up private lives underneath their squeaky-clean images; in Lovato’s case, it was eating disorders, self-harm, alcohol, and cocaine. However, she checked into rehab and stuck with it, going on to become a fairly successful adult pop singer and coming clean about her past problems.
  • Mickey Rooney began acting appearing in films at the ripe young age of 17 months and even as a teenager continued his career as the “hyperactive, girl-crazy” Andy Hardy, often together with Judy Garland. Rooney’s enlistment in World War II saw his career decline, making a few TV and film appearances after that (most notably in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World), but eventually making a Broadway comeback in 1979 at 59 years old with Sugar Babies, to rave reviews. After that, he worked regularly on both screen and stage until shortly before his death in April 2014 at the age of 93.
  • The child actors on Gimme A Break did well. Joey Lawrence continued to act through his teens and adulthood, including a main role on Series/Blossom and several guest roles as an adult. Currently, Lawrence stars in Melissa And Joey. His younger brother Matthew Lawrence has had a long career and transition to adult roles. Kari Michaelsen (Katie) became a motivational speaker after retiring from acting. Lauri Hendler faded from the limelight after The Eighties. Lara Jill Miller (Samantha) studied law and passed the bar in three states while on a break from acting, and continues to do voice work.
  • Natasha Lyonne started out as a child actor and continued working steadily through her teens and twenties, most notably in the American Pie series. She seemed to be an aversion until numerous convictions for impaired driving, a stay in rehab, and some health problems defined this trope for her. She cleaned up, however, and has transitioned to adult roles, including Orange Is The New Black.



  • Ironically played with in the life of Mickey Dolenz. He was the child star of Circus Boy for several years, after which his parents took him out of show business entirely to avert this trope. By all accounts, it worked… far better than when he gained and lost fame AGAIN as one of The Monkees.

  • Tero Niva, a very promising Finnish young actor, instead chose to become a software engineer rather than a professional actor.

  • Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, never acted in movies again (by choice) and graduated from Cornell and become a veterinarian instead.

  • Similar to Ostrum, Canadian child star Joey Cramer only appeared in three films, one of which was Flight of the Navigator in which he starred as the titular navigator. After those three roles, he seemingly disappeared. Some fans of those 3 movies found he now makes a comfortable living working at a sporting-goods store in the Canadian province of British Columbia.

  • Intentionally played with by Miley Cyrus. She was a Disney Channel star playing the squeaky-clean Hannah Montana, had semi-nude pictures of her on the internet at age 15, danced on a pole at the Teen Choice Awards, became known for her taste for drugs when a video of her trying salvia spread online, and made a transparently symbolic music video of her dressed as a giant Steam Punk bird being goggled at by creepy Victorians before breaking out of her cage. The single bombed, and everyone was expecting her to slide further into substance abuse and obscurity. Then she made an internet video of herself twerking to hip-hop in a unicorn onesie, cut off her hair, and made a new album with a heavy hip-hop influence and references to all the drugs she was doing, for which she did a Squicktastic So Bad, It’s Good Fan Disservice performance at the VMAs with a lot grinding on teddy bears, slapping the buttocks of women in teddy bear costumes, fellating a foam finger, and daggering on Robin Thicke, to say nothing of her flapping her strangely white tongue around the whole time – she also smoked a spliff on stage at the European VMAs. Obviously it was an attempt to invoke this trope as a conscious artist image. However, Miley, by all accounts, is quite well-adjusted out of kayfabe – she says the drug-addled trainwreck persona is, while closer to the truth than her child star personality, is just something she does on stage; she has stated her interest in feminism, made fun of the moral panic about her, and even mentions she sticks to social, non-addictive drugs (ecstasy and weed) rather than the cocaine, booze and heroin that has ruined the lives of so many child stars. Dolly Parton, her father Billy Ray Cyrus, and Snoop Dogg, amongst loads of journalists and interviewers, all say that she’s actually a very normal, intelligent girl.

  • Downplayed with Kathryn Beaumont. When she gave up acting she became a teacher, but it’s harder not to think of her as Alice and Wendy.

  • Kirk Cameron, after a long run on Growing Pains, several teen films in The Eighties, and gracing the cover of many a teen pinup magazine, became a born-again Christian. This led to much-publicized friction on the Growing Pains set. He faded from the limelight but continued to act in Christian-themed productions and devote his life to ministry work, until he made controversial anti-gay marriage remarks. This led to a video by former child stars, poking fun at the comments and supporting gay marriage.

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