It’s an all-too familiar scene hitting the entertainment headlines these days – woeful tales of Hollywood’s brightest and cutest child stars turned troubled adults, courtesy of less-than-flattering portrayals by the 24/7 media circuit. Former Nickelodeon actress Amanda Bynes, who up until the last six months remained largely out of the tabloids, has suddenly emerged as Hollywood’s latest cautionary lesson for pushing children into the entertainment industry at an early age. At the age of twenty-six, Bynes has suffered a string of bad decision-making that has landed her as the latest tabloid target and brut of late-night jokes by popular comedians like Jimmy Fallon. The recent legal snafus as experienced by Bynes and her rival counterpart, former Disney darling Lindsay Lohan (who boasts an impressive resume of numerous stints in rehab and arrests), have had me questioning in recent weeks the projected outcome for a long-term successful future for child stars once they transition into adult roles, and to what extent some of their very public battles could be pre-emptively prevented. In essence, are young Hollywood stars destined for a path of destruction, and if so, who is to blame?
The rise and decline of child stars is not a new or unusual topic. In fact, it’s almost a twin paradox, synonymously going hand-in-hand with one another. From the outside, kid stars seem to have it all – they’re famous, cute, rich, and adored. From television to film, the Hollywood machine is infatuated with the introduction of a fresh-faced, apple-cheeked, and sassy child performer. From a network or a production company’s standpoint, it is a surefire recipe for lucrative financial gain. Once that precocious and happily cherished child grows up, however, the system is far from kind. Sadly, and perhaps inevitably, the transition from lovable and bankable child star to serious and profitable adult entertainer is far from seamless. Ultimately, for every well-adjusted kid in the entertainment industry, there are two troubled Coreys. For Hollywood’s starlit youth, most who are unable to achieve equitable success as an adult generally fall into one of several predictable and disturbing categories: drug/alcohol addict, criminal, convict, adult entertainer, or simply, “gone too soon”.
It should come as no surprise that Hollywood’s biggest critics are former child stars themselves, products of an industry they feel treated them unfairly and unjustly. Some of the most outspoken advocates include former “Diff’rent Strokes” star Todd Bridges, ass well as 80’s pop sensation-turned-reality-star Corey Feldman. Both men, who have been candidly open about their past struggles and addictions, claim that Hollywood is merely a system of exploitation for young talent in both the literal and figurative sense. As such, they have pledged their undying commitment to protecting their fellow peers from the dark underbelly of the industry that caused them great fame and fortune, but tremendous pain.
Fortunately, for every current or former child wonder who has succumbed to the perils of fame through addiction, crime, and even death, there does exist one profound story of a celebrity brought back from the brink. Throughout 2007 and into early 2008, former Mouseketeer and reigning pop princess Britney Spears domineered international media coverage with tales of her increasingly bizarre and irrational displays of public behavior, from her self-imposed buzz cut as witnessed by members of the paparazzi to her infamous “comeback” appearance at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards in which she appeared confused and disoriented. A far cry from her glory days as a chaste and sweet Southern vocalist with the ability to turn everything she touched into gold, Spears’ world evolved into a free-falling tailspin as one consecutive crisis after another mounted, leaving a horrified public audience aghast as to whether Spears would prevail through this difficult period in her life. Five years, several hospitalizations, and one conservatorship later, Spears’ personal and professional life has drastically stabilized. She, arguably, was one of the lucky ones.
Why is it that only a select number of child stars, such as Natalie Portman, overcome the odds, while others like Anissa Jones succumb to the pressures of Hollywood temptation and meet an untimely end? Are we as spectators able to precisely pin-point one particular defining common thread between the future successes (and subsequent failures) of our favorite young stars? Should the media continue to relentlessly report and document every pitfall or stumble experienced by these entertainers as they navigate their lives?