The fate of former child actors is perilous. Rare is the thespian who is able to transition from the precocious to true professional.
Shirley Temple-Black went from curls and the big screen into politics. Christian Bale continues to shine as an actor beyond his boyhood performance in “Empire of the Sun.” Aubrey Drake Graham began as a child actor on the hit Canadian show “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” spiked to superstardom in the music industry under just his middle name, and made an abrupt and extremely successful turn into rapping. Many other child actors flourished for awhile, then crashed and burned.
- Dana Plato, who played Kimberly on “Diff’rent Strokes” in the 80s, acted in soft-core porn before succumbing to a drug overdose.
- Todd Bridges, who played Willis on the same show, also spiraled into addiction and crime but was spared the final indignity of an addict’s death.
- Dustin Diamond, who played Screech on “Saved by the Bell” in the 90s, was arrested in January 2015 for stabbing a fellow patron in a bar brawl in Wisconsin; he tried acting in porn and appeared in a few celebrity reality shows.
The list of child actors gone wild goes on: Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes, MacCauly Culkin, the Coreys–Haim and Feldman.
Danny Bonaduce meet Danny Partridge
Danny Bonaduce played Danny Partridge on “The Partridge Family” from 1970 to 1974. He was a wisecracking adult in a child’s body and the perfect foil to David Cassidy’s pretty-boy Keith. After the show ended its run in 1974, Bonaduce had various TV cameos but nothing of any substance. His money ran out. By the time he was sixteen, he was homeless.
Bonaduce’s descent into addiction began not long after. He was child of a violent home — he routinely showed up on set with black eyes and bruises. Bonaduce used alcohol and drugs to cope with feelings of abandonment and failure. By his own account, he abused substances for over two decades. He was arrested numerous times for drug-related offenses. His legal problems came to a head in 1991 when he was arrested for assaulting a transvestite prostitute in Phoenix.
Type-casting or wound too tight?
Sadly, many child actors unwittingly sabotage their careers by creating iconic characters from whom they can never separate. Jaleel White played the nerdy Steve Urkel on ABCs “Family Matters” from 1989 to 1998. Despite acting in many projects since the series demise, White has yet to achieve the stardom he enjoyed when he was younger. But lack of exposure is not the sole reason why some childhood stars flame out. Others simply succumb to the pressures stardom brings.
Achievement by Proxy — ABP — is a term for parents who live vicariously through the success of their children. ABP can be a healthy relationship, provided each person’s role is clearly defined. Healthy relationships follow the traditional parent-child dynamic of role model/disciplinarian and dependent. Regardless of the fact the child is earning enormous sums of money and is a household name, the parent must always be a stabilizing and practical presence in the child’s life. When these roles become distorted, ABP devolves into Achievement by Proxy Distortion or ABPD. This occurs when a parent’s need for wealth and fame supercedes their role as disciplinarian. Parents who engage in ABPD invariably exploit their children in order to reap the social and financial rewards they were unable to achieve in their own lives. Children dealing with ABDP often implode psychologically because they simply cannot satisfy the demands of their ravenous parents. Dina and Michael Lohan, Patsy Ramsey and Kit Culkin are examples of parents whose ABDP damaged their famous offspring.
Bonaduce finds himself
Bonaduce’s last drink was January 10, 2011. He attributes his sobriety to his third wife, Amy. He also had to reinvent himself. In Alcoholics Anonymous, the Big Book says an alcoholic has to change everything. Bonaduce concurs. He says he had to abandon his self-destructive ways and focus on the life he wanted.
Danny also says is that even though he’s been sober for two years, he still gets a craving every so often. He’s had to let go of the person he was at that point in his life when he was drinking. He had to let go of the things he was doing, the person he was being and the life he was living in order to pursue the life he wanted. But he admits, “Being a decent guy isn’t something that comes naturally to me, it’s something I had to learn.”
These days, the 55-year-old Bonaduce is a disc jockey in Seattle. He channels his energy into more productive activities such as boxing and martial arts. A few years back he defeated Donny Osmond in a celebrity boxing match. He also studied martial arts with Chuck Norris for more than 20 years.
Not just for celebrities anymore
Child stars make headlines for the right and wrong reasons, but it’s not just famous kids who must contend with the daily pressures of ABPD parents. The pressure to achieve straight A’s, rock the SAT and get into a top-notch college has driven many a child to the edge of breaking down. Parents have to recognize the warning signs that their child is on the ledge:
1. Poor sleep
2. Frequent headaches and/or gastrointestinal problems
3. Anger outbursts
4. Lack of concentration
5. Increased levels of anxiety and/or panic episodes
7. Increased sadness
8. Social withdraw
10. Lack of motivation
If you recognize these in your kids, talk to them. Children internalize feelings, particularly when it comes to the expectations of their parents. Talking to children and teens is especially important because it allows them to understand the expectations of their parents by letting them know who their parents are as people.
White River Academy is a residential boarding school for boys 12 to 17 located at the edge of the majestic Great Basin in Delta, Utah. White River specializes in treating substance abuse and behavioral issues. Our school curriculum focuses on teaching and reaching young men overlooked by standard classroom instruction. Our onsite counselors specialize in young adult problems and behaviors.