Alexandra Aja’s recent dark fantasy thriller Horns has brought the world’s attention to Daniel Radcliffe, an actor who has had to endure the viewing public watching over his every move and misdemeanour since he hit the big time as Harry Potter at the tender age of eleven. Radcliffe was probably the standout child star of the noughties and has gone on to become a relatively wellrounded and respected adult and professional.
Yet this is so often not the case for those chosen few who find themselves in the public eye at a young age as a result of their contributions to cinema, television or music. With the permanent voyeurism that these tender individuals must face, it’s little surprise to hear of so many instances of rebellion. The plot of the 1962 cult classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? doesn’t seem quite as far-fetched when looked at alongside the downfalls of some real life child stars.
Shia LaBeouf is perhaps one of the most striking examples of fame’s damaging effects on children. Best remembered for his role as Louis in the Disney Channel sitcom Even Stevens from 2000 to 2003, his recent run-ins with the law would make a hardened criminal wince. Since 2005, LaBeouf has been arrested for assault with a deadly weapon, accused of plagiarism and involved in a car crash that partially cost him the use of one of his hands, among other offences. Rupert Grint, his co-star in 2013’s The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman reported in an interview with The Guardian that LaBeouf had taken LSD on set.
Apart from his illegal actions, the twenty-eight year old staged a piece of performance art entitled ‘#IAmSorry’ last February, where viewers were invited to sit across a table from the actor who was wearing a brown paper bag on his head with the phrase “I Am Not Famous Anymore” written down the front of it. It’s difficult to see what LaBeouf actually gained from this other than a reputation for being highly unstable and a great deal of coverage on YouTube as bloggers tried to coerce him into removing the bag. To make matters worse, the actor wore the paper bag to a red carpet event and walked out of a press conference after reciting Eric Cantona’s infamous ‘seagulls’ speech in a deadpan tone.
On the subject of performance art, probably the most iconic child star of the last fifty years performed one of the strangest pieces of ‘art’ that the average viewer is likely to see in 2013. Macaulay Culkin Eating a Slice of Pizza has racked up 1,800,000 views on YouTube despite simply doing exactly what it does on the tin. It is literally a four minute clip of the former Home Alone star eating pizza in front of a camera. Incredibly, some might argue that this is relative normality in comparison to Michael Jackson’s old friend’s alleged escapades since he lost his childish charm and appeal.
Culkin’s downfall has been watched by millions around the world, similarly to the way that the traffic slows down near crashed cars as morbid curiosity causes drivers to stop for a better look. The actor was briefly jailed in 2004 for possession of marijuana and two controlled substances, yet most of Culkin’s infamy stems from the rumours surrounding him than the actual charges against him. His reclusive personality and haggard looks have led to frequent accusations of heroin use and his press team have had to work tirelessly to quash rumours regarding the nature of his relationship with Michael Jackson. On the day of writing, social networking sites are rife with rumours about his death – rumours which were swiftly and thoroughly denied by his representatives. Professionally, Culkin now focuses on his music career with the pizza-themed Velvet Underground parody group aptly named Pizza Underground.
However it’s unfair to tar everyone who was in the spotlight at a young age with the same brush. As mentioned before, Daniel Radcliffe has hardly fallen into a life of drugs and debauchery. The twenty-five year old admitted to a history of alcoholism but claims to have been sober since 2010. His co-star Emma Watson was appointed UN Women Goodwill Ambassador in 2014 and has kept a clean-cut image in her early adulthood despite the attempts of social media users and some sections of the media to sexualise her.
Incredibly, one of the best examples of a child star who has gone on to better things rather than a downfall is one of the most marginalised and controversial celebrities currently in the public eye. Similarly to LaBeouf, this actress was the star of a popular Disney Channel show in her younger years. However, this is where the comparison between the two ends, as Miley Cyrus has not fallen off the rails. Granted, the singer’s use of cannabis is well documented but this is no great misdemeanour in reality. She has no criminal record and is a well-known philanthropist. Even her provocative lyrics and dancing can hardly be seen as a black mark to her name when one considers that she’s a fully grown woman – it’s unfair to judge her with her younger years clouding our minds. Cyrus has flourished into a mega star as an adult and if there is any rebellion in her actions its media managed to the finest detail and not a cry for help or a sign of mental illness.
All in all, the pressures of stardom at a young age seem to have a different effect on each individual. Stars can turn to drugs, crime and bizarre media stunts as they grow older or they can work for the UN and keep a fairly low profile. Perhaps most of the ‘child stars gone bad’ scenarios could have been avoided with better management, a less demanding industry and a more understanding public.