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|Written by Alex Trottier|
|Monday, 31 December 2007 19:00|
A precocious daughter whose father always knew best, an ever-persistent son with a musical family, a child lost in a house of eight, a daughter of a wealthy widower, and the girls of a house that was always full - these are the children that television audiences have grown up with throughout the generations. These are the children that have delighted us, entertained us, and reminded us of what childhood is all about. And these are television’s children who grew up and were scrapped.
We all recognize the headline; “Insert B-List Celebrity Name Here caught once again using/doing/showing Insert Narcotic, Immoral act and/or Body Part Here”. If you think that child TV stars gone wrong is a new phenomenon, I will reveal for you the truth behind television’s ugly past.
In the 1950s, a new sitcom hit the airwaves that became yet another epitomic illustration of the “All-American Family”. The show is the classic “Father Knows Best”, another “Leave it to Beaver” type program that spouted the same patriarchal morals and popularized the white, middle-class, domestic experience. Interestingly the reality of child actor Lauren Chapin, who played the youngest daughter ‘Kitten’, greatly differed from the familial bliss represented by that of her cast. Behind the scenes, she lived with an alcoholic mother, a father who sexually molested her, and a physically abusive brother. Chapin attempted her own suicide as a child by hanging herself inside of her closet. At 16 the actor married and had eight miscarriages in a matter of only one year. Divorced at 18, she met another man who introduced the actor to heroine and seduced her into a life of prostitution. She spent her young adult years in out of prison and mental institutions, until having a religious revelation at age 34 which she claims saved her life.
In the 1970s two more family sitcoms premiered which also presented “valuable life lessons” in a lighthearted and humorous way. What “The Partridge Family” and “Eight is Enough” also had in common was that they both started the spiraling downward slope of two child stars. Both Danny Bonaduce and Adam Rich have suffered from drug addictions that have landed the actors in jail on repeated occasions. They have both been imprisoned for other felonies such as Bonaduce’s assault and robbery of a transvestite prostitute and Rich’s shoplifting charges. Bonaduce’s downfall started after his show’s cancellation where he spent a brief period living in his car. Rich’s downfall began at age ten when he began his use of marijuana and continued until his DUI charge in 2003.
“Diff’rent Strokes”, a show popularized in the 1980s, birthed two problematic child stars, Dano Plato and Gary Coleman. After departing from the show both actors had difficulty resuscitating their failing careers, resulting in their troubled adult lives. While Dana Plato is known for her breast implants and soft-core pornographic roles, Gary Coleman declared bankruptcy and worked as a security guard. Both actors have been arrested – Coleman for his physical assault of a fan and Plato for her robbery and drug addiction. After committing suicide Plato died at the age of 34 from a drug overdose. In Coleman’s circumstance it is evident that his downfall arose due to bad parenting as the actor later sued his parents for misappropriation of his trust fund.
In the newest batch of problematic child celebrities, the Olsen twins from the popular 1990s TV sitcom “Full House”, are continually making headlines. Most notably is Mary-Kate’s obstacle with anorexia nervosa and her alleged drug addiction. Not as commonly known is the two-year crystal-meth addiction of Jodi Sweetin who played Michelle’s big sister Stephanie. These young ladies further represent the child-celebrity-gone-wrong cycle of child TV stars.
After watching their sweet and endearing characters week after week, year after year, it is difficult to come to terms with the fact that these personalities were nothing but a guise. It is just as difficult to not feel sorry for these child stars, as their post-stardom lives were fundamentally based on being scrapped by the very television celebrity system that brought them stardom in the first place. (And no I am not referring to the actor’s ability to shed their skins and take on new characters.) What I am referring to is the very nature of such child celebrities who have been scrapped in various circumstances and by various people throughout their lives. As noted by previous examples, many of these children have been scrapped by their parents who have completely neglected and/or mistreated their children. After departing from television these children were once again scrapped, this time by the studio systems. No longer bringing in the popularity and finances they once had, these children are left with no one to care for them. And finally, they are scrapped once again by their fans who, lets face it, take enjoyment in hearing about the latest scandal of such has-been actors.
As for the next generation of child celebrities doomed to be scrapped, who knows who they will be? I might suggest watching the Disney Channel for a new list of candidates.