A Birdie Blind Item
It wasn’t just the bit player, or the nude auditions – it was the young star himself.
Actors complained to their agents about what they saw on set, and understood to be happening off set (this comes from one of them directly), but nothing was done about it.
You all know who the director is.
Hollywood Wanted An Edgy Child Actor. When He Spiraled, They Couldn’t Help.
Brad Renfro looked different, but Fernando Altschul expected that — they hadn’t seen each other in 10 years, when Renfro was 14 years old. The two had first met on the 1998 psychological thriller Apt Pupil, Renfro as the film’s star along with Ian McKellen, Altschul as its 34-year-old first assistant director, working with director Bryan Singer. Despite the fact that Renfro had a knack for making his job difficult — like sneaking cigarettes when union reps were visiting the set — Altschul still liked the kid, who at 11 had vaulted from obscurity to movie stardom when he was selected to star opposite Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones in the 1994 John Grisham thriller The Client.
It was now 2007. Renfro was an adult, playing a supporting role in the dark ensemble drama The Informers, and Altschul was again the first AD. When the two clapped eyes on each other for the first time in a decade, what Altschul saw shocked him. He was familiar with Renfro’s struggles with drug use, including an infamous 2005 arrest for attempting to buy heroin in Skid Row in Los Angeles. But he did not expect Renfro, who’d gained a considerable amount of weight, to reference his addiction quite so blithely.
“He jokingly told me he’d put down the spoon and picked up the fork,” Altschul, now 55, told BuzzFeed News.
Just a few months later, on Jan. 15, 2008, Renfro’s girlfriend found his body in his Los Angeles apartment; the coroner report stated he died from “acute heroin/morphine intoxication.” He was 25.
It had been years since Renfro had delivered a performance that caught the public’s attention, and at the time, he was treated as yet another addition to the mournful legacy of former child stars — Dana Plato, River Phoenix, Judy Garland — whose lives collapsed from Hollywood darling to death by overdose. One of the many consequences of the reckoning currently facing the entertainment industry, however, has been reassessing the lives and careers of actors who just seemed to fade away.
Before Renfro had turned 14, he’d become a Hollywood heartthrob, praised in the press by a director for his “sex appeal,” and filmed shirtless with a frequency that in hindsight feels at best disquieting, and at worst, exploitative. What is genuinely alarming, however — what suggests that Renfro had no business weathering the pressures of stardom no matter his preternatural talents — is that as an adult, Renfro told friends that he’d been born addicted to heroin and had started injecting the drug around age 12. One friend told BuzzFeed News that Renfro had said his mother enabled his heroin use. (Renfro’s mother and paternal grandmother — who served as his guardian for most of his childhood — have both died; despite repeated attempts, BuzzFeed News could not locate his father for comment.)
Renfro became an overnight star because he was a rowdy kid with natural talent who stood apart from more seasoned child actors. But 10 years after Renfro’s death, interviews with Renfro’s former colleagues make plain that the mechanisms in place to protect child actors — mechanisms compromised by conflicts of interest and a dependence on parents and guardians — were scarcely capable of protecting kids like Renfro, and largely remain so today.- Read more here