Help Us Map the Child Star Firmament

Slate's Culture Blog
March 10 2010 2:21 PM

Help Us Map the Child Star Firmament

It's a bleak day for the  Lisa Simpsons  of the world: Corey Haim, '80s teen idol, died today at 38, possibly of an overdose.

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It's a sad, old Hollywood story, of course—the bright young thing who flames out, thanks to some unholy combination of the pressure, the temptation, the changing celebrity marketplace, or a desire to escape a squeaky-clean image. Gawker just posted  a field guide to child stars gone bad , featuring some of the most blatant cases, like Jodie Sweetin of  Full House  (who became a crystal-meth addict; insert "How rude!" joke here) and Dana Plato of  Diff'rent Strokes .

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But, clearly, some child stars go on to lead relatively normal, stable lives, at least by Hollywood standards. Some have to spin out of control first: The poster child for this pathway is Drew Barrymore, who landed in rehab at 13 but is now the epitome of sunshine-y good feelings and atta-girl can-do-ism. Some turn out OK because they develop safer, nonshowbiz sideline careers. Science, for instance, seems to be a good way to avoid the demons: See  Mayim Bialik  from  Blossom  and  Danica McKellar  of  The Wonder Years . Some celebri-tots just manage to age gracefully into adult stars (Jodie Foster, Reese Witherspoon, Justin Timberlake, to name a few). Still others wait for the roles to catch up with their new, not-so-cute faces ( Jackie Earle Haley ). 

For every cautionary tale, then, you can come up with a counterexample. But is there a way to predict which child stars will flame out and which will turn out OK? Is it the age at which they start performing? The kinds of roles they play? The amount of fame they achieve right off the bat? "There is nothing natural about the making of child stars," notes critic Margo Jefferson in  her 2006 book on Michael Jackson . But would it be possible to engineer one that would turn out sane, happy, and healthy? Help us come up with a unified theory: Add your thoughts and best hypotheses in the comment thread.

Nina Shen Rastogi is a writer and editor, and is also the vice president for content at Figment.

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