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Old 05-29-10, 11:46 PM
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Five Saddest Child-Star Stories

Five Saddest Child-Star Stories

Sat., May. 29, 2010 1:25 PM PDT by Joal Ryan
Dana Plato, Gary Coleman NBC

[Editor's Note: This story originally ran on May 13, after the suicide of Dana Plato's son. In light of Gary Coleman's death on Friday, and all the renewed talk of the so-called Diff'rent Strokes Curse, we thought it was worth revisiting.]

Tyler Lambert wasn't a child star, but his suicide feels like a coda to mother Dana Plato's, whose own death made for one of Hollywood's saddest child-star stories.

From Judy Garland's studio-prescribed pills to Michael Jackson's lost childhood to River Phoenix's last night out, child-star mythology is dominated by terrible tales. Here are five defining ones:

Gary Coleman's Punch: In 1998, Plato's Diff'rent Strokes costar, once the highest-paid of child actors, was making a living as a security guard, when an autograph encounter led to his arrest for assault and battery. The reputed trigger for Coleman's fist? The ultimate taunt for the ultimate former child star: "That's why you didn't make it as a successful actor as an adult."

Bobby Driscoll's Lonely Death: A Disney golden boy of the 1940s and 1950s (he's the voice of Peter Pan in Peter Pan), the thirtysomething Driscoll was found dead in 1968 by children playing in an abandoned New York City apartment building. With no I.D. on him, and with no one recognizing him, the onetime star turned heroin addict was buried as John Doe. It would be nearly two years before his parents, and the world, learned of his fate.

Danny Bonaduce's Wake-Up Call: One day in 1974, the then-Partridge Family smart aleck and his mother drove to the set. The studio guard stopped their car at the gate. The child star was about to become a former child star in brutally classic fashion. "Hey, man," the guard told him, per Bonaduce's recounting to, "the Partridge Family doesn't live here anymore." And that was that.

Corey Haim's Unshocking Death: Last month's autopsy results on the 38-year-old star of Lucas and The Lost Boys acquitted drugs. Like Driscoll before him, Haim succumbed to natural causes, natural causes that felt all too natural given the nearly 20 years of professional and personal troubles that preceded his passing.

Dana Plato's Arrest: By 1991, it'd been a long time since anyone had predicted that TV's Kimberly Drummond was bound to become the next Elizabeth Taylor (as writer-actor Ben Stein once did). Her application for a $6-an-hour job at her Las Vegas apartment complex denied, Plato armed herself with a pellet gun and robbed a strip-mall video store of $164. Her subsequent arrest, coupled with those of costar Todd Bridges and tied to Coleman's then-legal wrangling with his parents, made the Diff'rent Strokes trio emblematic of everything, rightly or wrongly, we think former child stardom is about.

At the time, Tyler Lambert was 6.

(Originally published May 13, 2010, at 4:25 p.m. PT)

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