Due to the intense pressure of childhood stardom, many famous children in the industry have turned to drug and alcohol abuse in order to cope with fame. And sometimes, it seems like the number may be disproportionately high compared to “normal” children. But why?
There are several good theories. One, being famous is not for everyone—children especially. Exposure to long working hours and a lack of childhood time, so to speak, can wreak havoc on the psyche. Expectations, parental and otherwise, may be high, and children are developmentally inadequate to deal with these types of pressures.
Second, after experiencing intense fame, many child stars encounter a fall from grace, so to speak. Perhaps they once starred on an insanely popular movie, or weekly television series, and were unable to find steady work in the aftermath of cancellation.
Also, being in a lucrative industry may give children access to drugs and alcohol that they would not otherwise have. Although she has long since recovered, Drew Barrymore, famously engaged in substance abuse as a preteen. Unfortunately, not every child star who has battled drug and alcohol abuse has been as lucky.
River Phoenix (Stand by Me)
River Phoenix is among the most famous examples of child stars who succumbed to drug abuse. He was a highly regarded actor, who starred in many films including My Own Private Idaho and Stand By Me.
In 1993, at the age of 23, he died outside actor Johnny Depp’s L.A. club, The Viper Room, from an overdose. The combination drug known as a “speedball,” which contains a mixture of heroin and cocaine, was the culprit. Prior to this, however, he had reportedly denied drug abuse.
Bridgette Anderson (Savannah Smiles)
Anderson was an actress best known for playing the title character in the 1983 movie Savannah Smiles. In her teen years, she became addicted to heroin, but reportedly trying to stay clean near the time of her death.
In May 1997, she overdosed on a combination of alcohol and heroin at the age of 21.
Brad Renfro (The Client)
Brad Renfro, unfortunately, was another talented actor who died from an overdose.
He played the lead role in The Client at the age of 11. and went on to star in over 20 films, including the critically well-received Ghost World.
He died in January 2008, at the age of 25 of a heroin overdose.
Dana Plato (Diff’rent Strokes)
Dana Plato was most famous for her role in the 1980’s television series Diff’rent Strokes, but she also had bit parts in many movies and other television series.
After the show was canceled, she went through a somewhat public battle with drug and alcohol abuse.
In May 1999, she appeared on The Howard Stern Show. She talked about past drug and alcohol use but claimed sobriety except for painkillers. The next day, she was found dead of an apparent suicide in her Winnebago motor home.
She reportedly suffered an overdose of Lortab, a painkiller, and Soma, a muscle relaxant. Sadly, her son Tyler died 11 years later from suicide after engaging in drug and alcohol abuse.
Anissa Jones (Family Affair)
Jones was best known for her role as Buffy on the television series Family Affair. After the show was canceled in 1971, she decided to pursue a life away from Hollywood and enrolled in high school.
In August 1976, she was found dead at the age of 18 at a friend’s home, reportedly from an extensive cocktail of drugs, including cocaine, PCP, quaaludes, and Seconal.
Christopher Pettiet (Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead)
Christopher Lee Pettiet was an american television and film actor. He was the best known for his role as Jesse James in the Western tv series The Young Riders and as Zach Crandell in the cult comedy film Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (1991).
He was born on February 12, 1976 in Plano, Texas, during his childhood, his parents left their native Texas and moved all around the country. He lived in Colorado and different parts of California.
Pettiet began his career as a child actor making appearances in television series, TV movies and films.
He died on April 12, 2000, of an accidental drug overdose in Los Angeles, California at the age of 24. After his death, his mother started the Christopher Pettiet Memorial Scholarship Fund to help other young actors train in the Arts Center Stage in Los Angeles, California.
He was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea off of Topanga Canyon Road in Santa Monica, California
Scotty Beckett (Our Gang)
Beckett was an actor in the Our Gang (aka Little Rascals) films from the 1920s through the 1940s. He was also cast in a number of feature films in minor roles. In May 1968, at the age of 38, he sought medical attention for a beating and died two days later. The coroner could not determine a cause of death, but it was widely speculated that he overdosed on barbiturates or alcohol, perhaps in combination with the beating.
Prior to his death, he was arrested a number of times for public drunkenness, drunk driving, and drug possession. Several years before his death, he had attempted suicide after a drinking binge.