Falling Stars

Falling Stars

By: Jenna Piotrowicz

July 11th, 2023

This article is part of our Winter 2023 magazine. Click here to read the full edition.

Content Warning: Mentions of SA and Suicide

Generations of people have grown up watching their favorite TV characters make them laugh and cry. But oftentimes, people lose sight of the real person behind the character. Brought on by an industry full of abuse and neglect, beloved childhood actors fall from their stardom into a much darker place. Seeing these former child stars going into rehab and turning to drugs and alcohol is a much more common occurrence than people would prefer.

There are many examples of this, but two that caught special attention in recent generations were stars Miley Cyrus and Amanda Bynes. Generation Z grew up watching Miley Cyrus and Amanda Bynes in their titular roles on “Hannah Montana” and “The Amanda Show,” and then in hit movies like “Bolt” and “She’s The Man.” But later in their teenage years, both stars fell into a downward spiral that left audiences shocked. 

Amanda Bynes debuted on her first show at just 12 years old. At such a young age, she was exposed to the Hollywood lifestyle and pushed into the spotlight. During those formative years, many teenage girls discover themselves and come into their own skin. The spotlight constantly on her, Bynes quickly began to dislike acting and her own self image, and she retired at the age of 24. After stepping away from acting, which had once been her whole life, she quickly lost motivation and began her heavier use of drugs. In April of 2012, Bynes was arrested for a DUI and refused testing for drugs and alcohol. Many other incidents followed, including arrests, car accidents and Bynes wearing a messy platinum blonde wig to  her court appearance.  

After an array of angry and nonsensical tweets went out, it was clear she was not in the right frame of mind. Tweets—now deleted—include, “Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are ugly!” on July 8, 2013, and “Chris brown beat you because you’re not pretty enough” on May 26, 2013. On the same day, Rihanna tweeted, “Ya see what happens when they cancel Intervention?” in response. 

 “I just had no purpose in life,” Bynes said in an interview with Paper magazine. “I’d been working my whole life and [now] I was doing nothing.”

Bynes’ mother was granted conservatorship in August of 2013 following her clearly poor mental state and drug use, and it was not until February of 2022 that it was filed for dismissal.

Unfortunately, there were many more fallen stars to come after Bynes, suffering the same aftermath of spending time in the industry. 

Miley Cyrus was known to many children as Hannah Montana from the hit Disney show of the same name. Like Bynes, she felt intense pressure from the industry and Hollywood to be the perfect popstar with the perfect image. Years later; however, fans began to see a new side of Cyrus as she began to explore herself outside of her Disney star persona. She made headlines as she began wearing more provocative clothing and embracing her sexuality. For a young adult, these things are rather normal, but in the view of the industry, lost innocence is a headline for every tabloid. 

Oliviah Brown, a Michigan State senior who grew up watching Miley Cyrus, noted the change she remembered happening in front of her eyes. Brown said, “I always knew her as this country, down-to-earth girl, and around the time she released her album “Bangerz” she just changed. But I thought that’s just what they all did. In my teenage brain I just assumed that it was normal that Disney or Nickelodeon stars just always went a little crazy after leaving the studio. I never thought too much about what really could have been causing these differences.”

Actors such as Macaulay Culkin, Lindsey Lohan, Jeanette McCurdy and Drew Barrymore are also included in the list of children who were let down terribly by the entertainment industry at such a young age.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking story about child stars in Hollywood involves the abuse of Corey Haim and Corey Feldman. Known as the “Two Coreys,” both debuted in Hollywood at an incredibly young age

The two completed many productions together, all while battling drug addiction. 

In an interview with PEOPLE in 2016, Feldman said, “I was basically a slave child. I started working at 3 years old, and it wasn’t my choice.” Feldman also noted that he had been sexually assaulted by men in the entertainment industry for years. 

After the death of Corey Haim in 2010 at the age of 38, Corey Feldman came out with a film, titled “(My) Truth: The Rape of Two Coreys,” which claimed that notable actor Charlie Sheen (19 at the time) had raped Haim at the age of 13. The film also included statements mentioning other perpetrators of sexual abuse during their time in the spotlight.

Tracy Koski, an MSU alumni who grew up watching “The Lost Boys” and other productions with the Two Coreys, said, “It’s absolutely horrifying what people in Hollywood can get away with. These are children, being abused by people with incredible power. In that scene, I can’t even imagine the amount of manipulation and grooming that goes on.”  

Clearly there is a trend, and it is nothing new. The Hollywood industry is one of the most toxic and abusive places to be, especially for a child. Being exposed to that harsh environment has an effect on their lives and their developing minds. 

According to the CDC, about one in four girls and one in thirteen boys experience sexual abuse as a child. They also state that 91% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone known by the child or the child’s family members. 

The CDC also says that in the long term, children who are abused or neglected are “at increased risk for experiencing future violence victimization and perpetration, substance abuse, sexually transmitted infections, delayed brain development, lower educational attainment, and limited employment opportunities.” They also state that chronic abuse can even change brain development and increase risk for PTSD and memory issues. 

A factor that can affect the downfall of many child stars is their parents, who sometimes use their children for fame or much worse. Macaulay Culkin, a child star known for his role in the “Home Alone” movies, appeared on the comedian Marc Maron’s podcast, “WTF,” on January 22, 2018, to explain his life during his childhood career. Culkin stated that his father was jealous of his success at such a young age, something that his own career never achieved. Culkin mentions that his father controlled most of his career and he didn’t have much say in what was happening. He also stated that he was often mentally and physically abused by his father. 

This parental management is something that many child actors have faced, some even losing most of their earnings to greedy parents and family members. Culkin’s fortune was put up for grabs during his parent’s separation in the 90s, both hoping to receive the sum of money, resulting in Culkin taking them to court and receiving financial emancipation. At just 15 years old, Feldman also took his parents to court after finding a mere percentage of his earnings in his bank account and was also granted emancipation. 

California’s Coogan Act, revised in 2000, is one meant to protect child actors by putting away their money until they become of age, requiring a minimum of 15% of their earnings to be placed in a trust fund. The income of the child actor is now seen as their property, and no longer the parent or guardian’s. 

In a statement with PEOPLE, Feldman spoke up about the ever-changing industry, and how social media has made these issues in Hollywood even worse. “We should be talking to the district attorneys and the lawmakers in California, especially because this is where the entertainment industry is and this is a place where adults have more direct and inappropriate connection with children than probably anywhere else in the world,” said Feldman. 

If change is going to come about, it should start with the laws protecting children in the entertainment industry. Maybe one day, the world will see justice for the past child stars whose childhoods and innocence were stolen from them, as well as make the industry a safer space for present and future aspiring young actors. 

Jenna Piotrowicz is a senior majoring in professional and public writing, aspiring to be a writer or editor in her future. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies, TV shows and working on her own screenplays, hoping to create the next big feature film.