70s Child Stars: Then And Now
It’s now five decades since the golden ’70s blessed us with bell-bottom pants, iconic disco music, and of course, child stars. This special breed of child stars acted, sang, or danced their way to stardom. They might have lost their baby faces or their charming charisma, but we loved them, even if some of them took the drug and alcohol highway. Whether they left the entertainment world or went on to make moves in Hollywood, they’ll be on our list if they were popular enough.
Growing up as a child star might be difficult, but things can be a little easier if you’re part of Hollywood royalty. Ron’s parents were both into show business, with his father an acclaimed director and mother a seasoned actress. At just ten years old, Ron made his acting debut for The Andy Griffith Show. Years later, he successfully switched into directing with his first movie being the 1997 film Grand Theft Auto. Ron is still into directing and is the director behind Hollywood hits such as Apollo 13, Da Vinci Code, and A Beautiful Mind.
Helen Hunt’s father was the movie director and acting coach Gordon Hunt, so it was only sensible that Helen would learn from the best from a very tender age. When she turned nine, a year after starting classes with her father, Helen made her screen debut in the 1973 movie Pioneer Woman. Helen is never shy to acknowledge her father’s influence over her incredible career in which she’s worn four Golden Globe Awards, an Oscar and four Emmys.
Johnny Whitaker was the ’70s beloved natural redhead who had a knack for soap opera roles. His first role was in The Family Affair and followed that up with The General Hospital, and The Russians are Coming. Johnny soon became a Hollywood teen star with notable roles in films such as Disney’s Snowball Express (1971), and The Magic Pony (1977). At 19, Johnny took a break from Hollywood and embarked on a soul-searching mission in Portugal where he came back with a Communications degree. However, Johnny fell into the alcohol and drug abuse trap, but the good news is that he’s now been sober for more than 13 years.
When the directors of the ’70s hit show The Partridge Family were auditioning for Keith Partridge’s role, they landed on David Cassidy due to his good looks. However, some months into the project, David shocked the producers with his singing prowess, eliminating the need for a double. Even with huge roles throughout his career, David is still remembered for that one role in the Partridge band that produced five albums. Sadly, David became an alcohol addict who never admitted that he had a problem and died of liver failure in 2017.
Tatum O’Neal was destined for greatness after becoming the youngest actor to bag a competitive Oscar Award at just ten years old. Her role in the 1973 movie Paper Moon earned her the Oscars and opened doors that signaled the start of a highly prosperous career. Her explosive start secured her a place in three consecutive films throughout the ’70s but the next 15 years became dry as she only featured in five movies. Her superstar status led her into a life of cocaine and heroin abuse which cost her custody of her kids, spending nights in prison, and ended her marriage. Tatum later checked herself into rehab and has been sober since 2012.
It would be insane to kick off our list with some other kid other than the King of Pop Michael Jackson. Born in 1958, MJ made a name for himself alongside his brothers in the family band group the Jackson 5. He later branched solo and enjoyed worldwide success with most of his songs topping charts weeks on end. However, his fame brought him constant trouble since Michael was publicly known to be a drug addict and survived sleeping pills in his later years. MJ, unfortunately, died in 2009 from a drug overdose.
In the seven years between 1974 and 1985, no TV series was as successful as NBC’s Little House on The Prairie. The show was a fan favorite, and Allison Arngrim played Nellie, a spoiled kid who had a way of making everyone’s life miserable. Being the most hated person on TV is a sure death wish because Allison found it hard landing roles after Little House on The Prairie. With parts increasingly becoming scarce, Allison later became an author and a stage performer in New York.
The Bewitched is a ’60s fantasy sitcom that aired well into the early ’70s. At just two years old, Erin Murphy joined the show and alternated roles with her fraternal twin sister, who later dropped as they grew older. Following The Bewitched’s success, Erin opted to lead a life away from the limelight and became a high school cheerleader and a Homecoming Queen. As she got older, Erin was never into acting and pursued a career in production, stunts and teaching.
Motivated by a mother who believed her daughter was one of the prettiest little girls she’s ever seen, Brooke Shields made her acting debut in 1978’s Pretty Baby. Pretty Baby was widely controversial since Brooke had to play the role of a beautiful child prostitute. The movie’s controversy opened Hollywood doors on-screen and on modelling runways with Brooke establishing herself as a prosperous model and actress. Her role in Suddenly Susan in the late ’90s led to the show’s financial success with an estimated 25 million earned per episode.
Robert Downey Jr.
Not many know this, but Robert Downey Jr. was a real child star. His first role was in his father’s 1970 film Pound and consistently landed roles in notable movies until he earned an Academy Award for the movie Chaplin in 1992. Unfortunately, Robert went the drug and alcohol way and later served a prison sentence before sobering up and changing his habits. Robert is currently a Hollywood A-lister and among the highest-paid actors thanks to Tony Stark’s role in the Iron Man franchise.