THE LANKY YOUNG GUY SEEMS LIKE ANY other student at Cerritos College in Los Angeles—until he starts talking about acting. "I'd like to say to everybody in Hollywood, if they think they've got a role too big for Rodney Allen Rippy, I dare them to hit me with it," he says. "I'll take them to the Academy Awards."
Chutzpah? Maybe. But, hey, it worked once. Nineteen years ago, at the ripe old age of 3, Rodney Allen Rippy became an instant phenom. First he chomped his way to stardom as that cute little kid in the Jack-in-the-Box commercials who couldn't get his mouth around an enormous Jumbo Jack. Then he capped his early career by appearing on talk shows, T-shirts and a hit album. By age 6 he was making $200,000 a year, but his parents, who had moved to Long Beach, Calif., from Shelby, N.C., made sure the success didn't spoil him. "When I stepped out of line, I got my buns warmed up," says Rippy, who is now 22, 5'11" and is not talking burgers.
But the offers eventually dried up. In 1980, at age 12, he moved with his folks—his father restores classic autos, his mother was a housewife—to Julian, N.C., and quietly resumed a normal life. His mother died of cancer in 1986. "I know she's watching over my shoulder every second," says Rippy.
Three years ago Rippy moved west again for college and, he hopes, an acting comeback. Although he has appeared in two episodes of Fox-TV's Parker Lewis Can't Lose, he also plans to transfer to a four-year college next year and earn a B.A. in marketing and advertising—just in case showbiz isn't so generous the second time around. The money he earned as a kid is enough to pay for his education, he says, "and to allow me to go out on weekends for a burger." A burger? "I still eat them," says Rippy. "Only now I don't have to stuff them in my mouth."
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