Though Hollywood produces its fair share of stars, we sometimes forget that our favorite stars have real lives of their own.
Although everything looks good on the big screen, the things happening off-camera can paint a much darker picture at times. Child actors, in particular, can have a very hard time. In addition to the normal difficulties of growing up and coming of age, they also have to deal with the stress of long work days and the pressures of fame. In many cases, we never know about these stories until it’s too late.
With that in mind, here are 10 tragic stories of young Hollywood stars.
1. Shirley Temple
Although Temple lived a long and active life (having passed away in only 1992), child labor laws in Hollywood were far from modern when she was a starlet. Despite her enormous popularity, she was paid only $10 a day for many of her films and made to work long days. According to the Daily Mail, some shoots even had a “punishment box” for children, a black box with a block of ice in it where children would “cool off” if they got upset on set.
2. Ricky Nelson
Audiences know Ricky Nelson from the radio sitcom series The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Behind the scenes, Nelson was small for his age and often felt insecure. He also suffered from severe asthma attacks as well.
3. Gary Coleman
You probably know Gary Coleman from Diff’rent Strokes as a result of his famous catchphrase, “Whatcha talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?” Although Coleman reportedly made about $100,000 per episode when the show was at its peak, his parents were guilty of stealing money from him throughout his early career. He also had a chronic kidney disease which made long days on-set quite difficult.
4. Patty Duke
Patty Duke was the star of the eponymous The Patty Duke Show, a program about a rambunctious teenager named Patty and her identical cousin Cathy, who is her opposite. On-set, however, things were rough—that’s because Duke suffered from bipolar disorder and was subject mood swings. In fact, those mood swings were part of the inspiration for the two opposite cousins on the show.
5. Maureen McCormick
McCormick played Marcia Brady on The Brady Bunch but her life behind the scenes was not as wholesome as the images of the show. In addition to struggling with depression and bulimia, McCormick also wrote about her addictions to cocaine and quaaludes in a memoir called “Here’s the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice.”
6. Natalie Wood
Wood was a famous young actress in classic films like Miracle on 34th Street and Rebel Without a Cause. Still, Wood’s parents were so determined to make her a star that they were manipulative—even making Wood have relationships with older men who didn’t treat her well.
7. Jackie Coogan
Jackie Coogan is most famous for his work with Charlie Chaplin in the movie The Kid. Although the movie was a huge success and Coogan had bankrolled more than a million dollars before he was a teen, his parents squandered his finances leaving him with nothing. This injustice persuaded California to pass the Coogan Act in 1939 as protection against young performers.
8. River Phoenix
River Phoenix is one of many in the Phoenix family, all of whom led eccentric lives. His family joined controversial Christian cult the Children of God where he was very young where he suffered abuse. Later he struggled with addiction and died young, at the age of 27. Still, he remains a beloved and iconic actor to this day.
9. Corey Haim
Similar to Phoenix, Corey Haim was a breakout child star in the 80s who had a rough time in Hollywood. He was exposed to the partying lifestyle of his peers too early and later battled with drug addiction and weight problems as an adolescent.
10. Heather O’Rourke
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Finally, horror fans may recognize Health O’Rourke from her role in Poltergeist. Although she did a great job with that film, she also had a short-lived career as a result of complications from surgery. Doctors tried to remove a bowel obstruction and she died during the operation at only 12 years.
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