Sunday, September 7, 2003

Childhood stardom lingers for life

Five former celebrities recount different struggles after the applause died down

By Anthony Breznican
The Associated Press

The glory of being a famous cute kid can fade faster that the pages of an old Tiger Beat magazine.

What often remains is nostalgia, taunting and the occasional pummeling in a celebrity boxing tournament.

Some are bitter. Some have made peace with their pasts and found new successes. Others still seem a little dazed from the long-extinguished limelight.

The Associated Press sat down to talk about the former child star phenomenon with Barry Williams (Greg on The Brady Bunch), Danny Bonaduce (Danny on The Partridge Family), Dustin Diamond (Screech from Saved By the Bell), Leif Garrett (teenage heartthrob singer of "I Was Made for Dancin' ") and Corey Feldman (Mouth from The Goonies.)

All five play themselves as poker buddies in the new David Spade comedy Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, offering advice to the fictional kiddie star.

Question: Do you feel like your childhoods were that weird? The whole point of Dickie Roberts is that he's too messed up to function.

Bonaduce: They weren't as weird as Dickie's, but they were weird. I was 10 and would get up to go to work and there would be 400 people in my front yard with signs - only because they couldn't find David Cassidy's house. (Laughter.) That's weird.

Williams: The abnormalities come in with the kind of attention we had. Touring, making records, showing up at the set every day. You have publicity machines, you have agents ... .

Q: How do the fans treat you now?

Diamond: You can't really go out to regular places and not get recognized and not get hassled.

Bonaduce: Everybody recognizes me, but they don't care.

Diamond: When I go to the movie theater, right when the lights go down people shout out 'Screeeech!' If someone notices me and wants to get an autograph or something else, usually they're loud about it.

Q: What do you do? Sink down in your chair and wait for it to end?

Diamond: Sometimes I'm a smart-ass about it. I try not to be, but sometimes it weighs on you. You're in a theater. 'What are you doing here?' 'I'm bowling.' What do they think I'm doing? I'm seeing a movie, I'm not shopping for groceries.

Bonaduce: Oooooh.

Feldman: Ooh, you really have a bad attitude.

Bonaduce: (To Diamond) You know what I do? I have this novel approach. When they come up to me, I say 'Thanks.'

Diamond: That's because you were smoking crack. That's totally different. I have more dignity than that. (Note: Bonaduce was arrested for buying crack in 1990.)

Williams: Let me jump in for a second. (Pointing to Diamond) What he's talking about is something we don't hear because the nature of our roles was different. I was trying to be pseudo-hip, (to Bonaduce) you were the wise-ass. (To Garrett) You were the heartthrob. But he was driving the comedy. He was the silly guy.

Bonaduce: (To Diamond) You know why I took such exception with what you said? I've had an experience you will never have: being annoyed because people were constantly coming up to me - until they stopped, and I missed them.

Diamond: I don't have any stories about hanging out at Michael Jackson's house. I wasn't really the guy everyone wanted on the scene, because I wasn't, like, the heartthrob.

Bonaduce: You were in one of the coolest movies. What was that movie with those two guys? Made (with Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau). You were in Made!

Diamond: Playing myself.

Bonaduce: Hey, I've been every sitcom in America as a (stupid) version of me, with every transvestite joke and Partridge Family joke you can think of. (Note: Bonaduce was arrested in 1986 for beating up a transvestite prostitute.)

Q: Why have you all stayed in entertainment? A lot of people don't when they grow up.

Garrett: A lot of them didn't want to in the first place. They were forced into it by their families. But I like being an entertainer.

Bonaduce: I swear to God, I'm not joking: I just don't know how to do anything else.

Feldman: I was doing it because it was what my parents told me I had to do. And by the time I was old enough to make a choice not to, everybody in the world knew who I was. So it was impossible to go work at Taco Bell. ... At some point, I had to go 'OK, now I'm going to stand up and I'm going to do this career because I choose to do this career.'

Diamond: If I win the lottery tomorrow and had $300 million ... I'd still do stand-up.

Garrett: I don't do what I do because I want people coming up to me and asking for my autograph. I just like doing what I do.

Bonaduce: Without fame, I'm just some 5-foot-6 guy with red hair and freckles. But with fame, I've had sex with some quality women.

Williams: Mine was the opposite. I finally confronted my parents at 11, and I said, 'You are standing in the way of my destiny. I want into this business.' They finally relented.

Q: How do you guys feel about making fun of your past?

Williams: There's nothing mean-spirited in (Dickie Roberts). In my opinion if I can't make fun of myself or have fun with the image and all that stuff, I'd be dead.

Feldman: You can't survive.

Williams: I would be in a looney bin.

Garrett: Just because we use our names, lend our names, that doesn't mean that that's us. It's like a caricature of us, in a certain way.

Q: Do these things ever get mean-spirited?

Feldman: If you're going to make a joke, it better be funny. If it's stupid and demeaning, then it's just stupid and demeaning.

Diamond: If you let people knock you down, and you just go for the quick buck, you might not work again. ... If all I do is Screech, then that's all I'll be known for ever. You will never rise to the next level as a great actor.

Feldman: Gary Coleman sums it up. The bottom line is, if you look at Gary Coleman (child star of Diff'rent Strokes 1978-1986) and his career, forget about the governor thing for a minute, everything that guy has ever done is taking a shot at himself. Everything. Emannuel Lewis (child star of Webster 1983-1987) has got the same things going against him, but he has got a great attitude. He's intelligent ...

Bonaduce: So is Gary.

Diamond: But Gary has a terrible attitude.


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