Who's to blame for the child star who falls? The studio? The temptations of Hollywood? The real problem is parents, says Mary Grady, a children's agent for 33 years and the mother of child stars Don (My Three Sons) and Lani (Eight Is Enough). "We've never lost a kid in this town," says Grady. "You lose the parents. When the parents lose their heads, then the kids do."
Ironically the Kittens, Buffys and Rustys on these pages starred in family sitcoms in which each episode's little problem was resolved with sound parental advice and a chorus of tolerant chuckles. Sadly, it was after the laughter died that the real problems began.
Danny Bonaduce, the freckled wisenheimer of ABC's Partridge Family (1970-74), is now a 31-year-old wisenheimer deejay in Phoenix. He is "clean and sober," says Bonaduce (shown between TV siblings David Cassidy and Susan Dey) after two arrests for cocaine possession.
Adam Rich, Nicholas, the elfin youngest child on ABC's Eight Is Enough (1977-81), is now 22, living in L.A., still reportedly elfin and hoping to revive his career. He has had trouble enough: In 1983 he was arrested for smoking pot; in 1988 he was admitted to the Betty Ford Center for substance abuse.
The pigtailed little girl who played Buffy, the wide-eyed moppet of CBS's Family Affair (1966-71), never finished growing up. Anissa Jones died in 1976 at 18 of a massive overdose of cocaine, Quaaludes and barbiturates that an Ocean-side, Calif., coroner, Robert Creason, called "the largest drug combination of any case I've ever encountered." "Anissa got into the wrong crowd," says her costar, Johnnie "Jody" Whitaker (shown above with Jones on the show). He now has an import-export business in Portugal. "Hollywood," he says, "doesn't take care of its young."
Rusty Hamer, Danny Thomas's son on Make Room for Daddy (1953-64), "was devastated when the series ended," says TV sister Angela Cartwright (below, with Hamer, Thomas and Marjorie Lord). After leaving Hollywood in 1968, he held odd jobs—including steak cook at his brother John's restaurant—and suffered from depression and alcoholism. Last year, at age 42, he fatally shot himself in the head with a .357 Magnum in De Ridder, La. "This kid wasn't qualified to do anything after his acting career ended," says John. "At 18, he was a has-been with a star on Hollywood Boulevard."
Since The Munsters (1964-66), Butch Patrick—wolfboy Eddie (shown with "Grandpa" Al Lewis)—has had limited success as a human. Patrick, now 37, was convicted on a drug charge in 1979 and rocked briefly with a band, Eddie & the Monsters, in 1983.
"There was a time when I thought the only way to show my success was having a Mercedes, a huge house and a two-gram vial of cocaine in my pocket," says Mackenzie Phillips, 31, who was Julie, a vulnerable teen bean pole on CBS's One Day at a Time (1975-84)—until her drug habit got out of hand ($300,000 on cocaine in a year). The show's producers fired her in 1980. Phillips (at far right with co-star Valerie Bertinelli) now sings with her dad, the Mamas and the Papas' John Phillips, in a new version of the band.
Billy Gray, Bud on Father Knows Best (1954-63), was busted for pot in 1962. He quit showbiz soon after the show. "I didn't want to work; no one wanted to hire me," says the 53-year-old Gray (shown with Robert Young, Jane Wyatt and TV sisters Lauren Chapin, seated, and Elinor Donahue). He now races motorcycles. But Chapin—"Kitten"—tumbled like a cat into a well: heroin, psychosis and poverty. Today, at age 45, the divorced mother of two lives in Orlando. "I'm doing okay," says Chapin, an evangelist and rock-band manager. "People still ask if I mind if they call me Kitten." She does.
On the set you are a prince or princess, and they treat you great," remembers Keith Thibodeaux, who—as a 6-year-old using the nom de television Richard Keith—made his debut as America's tiniest mambo king, Little Ricky, on I Love Lucy in 1956. But Thibodeaux, now 40 and a Christian rock musician living in Jackson, Miss., learned that young Hollywood princes can easily turn into frogs. His subsequent noncareer embraced a spectrum of drugs, from marijuana to LSD.