It’s happened so often that at this point it’s almost a cliche – an adorable kid makes a splash in Hollywood, only to fade during the awkward tween years. Often, they never make a reappearance in the spotlight save for the occasional tabloid article or, tragically, at their untimely death due to having been raised in a life of excess. There are some exceptions – Drew Barrymore, for instance – but there are many more child-stars who, after their initial successes, began to drown in Hollywood and never surfaced again.
But these 5 kiddos weren’t enjoying stardom even in the thick of things. For most of them, the tragedy of their lives began way too early, as the people who were supposed to take care of them treated them as cash cows, instead.
#5. Maureen McCormick
The eldest Brady sister struggled with lifetime depression and anxiety. While she was filming The Brady Bunch, her parents fought a lot. Her father told her that her grandmother had passed down syphilis to her mother, who could have passed it down to her – sparking an intense paranoia for her own health. She also spent some of her time during filming dealing with her mentally ill grandmother’s death, which was quickly followed by her grandfather’s suicide.
She used to look forward to the scenes when Marcia was supposed to burst into tears, so she could finally relieve some of her own pent up emotion.
The good news is that she told People in an interview that (now, at 60), she feels “healthier, happier, and more in tune with myself than ever.”
#4. Shirley Temple
Shirley Temple was so small when she hit the big time – just three years old when she was discovered and six when she starred in her first film – that it’s unsurprising to hear that the adults in her life took advantage of her. It was, after all, the era of big studios who kept even their adult stars on a short leash, and Temple was no different. She was a commodity; one that allowed Twentieth Century Fox to survive the Depression intact.
Her mother reportedly pinned Shirley’s hair into 56 curls each and every night and gave her a vinegar wash once a week, none of which could have been super fun for a small child. Shirley also recalls a story in her autobiography, Child Star, about nearly being mauled by an overexcited crowd before she was old enough to even understand what they wanted from her.
Despite her crazy start, Shirley Temple went on to lead a functional, even exemplary life as an adult. She served as ambassador to both Ghana and Czechoslovakia and was a large contributor to the Republican party. When she married for the second time, she spent half a century with that man. And as for acting? With her popularity already waning at the age of sixteen, Shirley made the decision (presumably with her parents) to step away from life in Hollywood.
She traded the studio schoolroom for a private Los Angeles high school and recalls, “tears came to my eyes. I looked at all those girls and knew I was one of them.”
And so, it would seem, we have a happy ending after all.
#3. Natalie Wood
One of Hollywood’s saddest tales will always belong to Natalie Wood. Her overbearing mother, who wanted her daughter to live out the dreams of stardom she’d had for herself, shoved into the business as a child – she would stop at nothing to see Natalie in pictures.
Not at mutilating a butterfly in order to get her daughter to cry for a take, not at forcing a frightened, water-phobic ten year old to cross a rickety bridge set to collapse, not at sending her teenaged daughter into sexual encounters with much older men in order to advance her career.
It’s little wonder that the adult Natalie had problems with drinking and with choosing the right man. In a recent biography by Suzanne Finstad, Natalie’s sister recalls how shocked she was at the event (never disclosed) that ended Wood’s first marriage to actor Robert Wagner…and how floored she was when the two took up again a decade later.
We’ll probably never know the truth of what happened on the Splendour the night Natalie Wood died. But only because Robert Wagner isn’t talking.
#2. Gary Coleman
The adorable child actor from Diff’rent Strokes wasn’t just short and chubby – he suffered from an autoimmune disease that affected his kidneys. He received dialysis treatments daily and underwent his first kidney transplant before the age of 5. He had another at 14.
Coleman once remarked during a People interview that he took “so many pills a day you’d think I’d rattle.” He suffered from significant health issues until his death from an intracranial hemorrhage at the age of 42.
#1. Patty Duke
The headlining teenager from The Patty Duke Show had no idea that she was showing the signs of bipolar disorder, but that would end up being to blame for her wildly changing behavior and bad reputation on set.
She later said that feeling like two people helped with her role in the show of, you know. Playing two people.
Duke was officially diagnosed at 35 while on the road back from eating disorders, irresponsible sexual activity, drinking, and drugs. Since beginning treatment, she has seen success in both her personal and professional lives. Her biggest accomplishments are, in her own words:
The most important is being a better mom. And I must be a better wife, too, because we’re going on 27 years of marriage. Another is having the initiative to control a mental illness and not letting it control me anymore.
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