With a Jaden Smith vehicle – the re-make of The Karate Kid out this week – it seems timely to consider the career of Ralph Macchio, the original Karate Kid. Macchio was one of the biggest baby-faced child stars of the 80s – but by no means the only one. The 80s created a cast of child stars, many of whom struggled with fame and fortune as they grew older (but not necessarily wiser).
Ralph Macchio (November 4, 1961 – )
Ralph Macchio got his start in Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation The Outsiders (1983), starring alongside Rob Lowe, Emilo Estevez, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze and Diane Lane. But Macchio is perhaps best known as the original Karate Kid, in the 1980 films that actually featured karate (unlike the Jaden Smith re-make featuring Kung Fu). One of the most significant roles of his adult career was in the comedy My Cousin Vinny, though since the 1990s his roles have been limited to mainly cameos – including playing himself in an episode of Entourage. Unlike many of his fellow 80s child stars, Macchio had led a relatively scandal-free life.
Corey Haim (December 23, 1971 – March 10, 2010)
Corey Haim started off in the comedy television series The Edison Twins, before starring in the 1984 thriller Firstborn with Sarah Jessica Parker and Robert Downey Jr. His big break came as the title character in the coming-of-age flick Lucas, with Charlie Sheen, Winona Ryder and his on- and off-screen romantic interest Kerri Green. Corey Haim’s best-known role was alongside Corey Feldman in 1987’s The Lost Boys, where he played a comic book obsessed vampire-slayer. This film earned him cult-status, and inspired a number of teen films starring both Haim and Feldman. The darker side of Haim’s fame was the teen’s early drug use and addiction – which inspired an intervention-style reality show, The Two Coreys, with Feldman in 2006 – and eventually resulted in his death, an overdose on prescription drugs earlier this year.
Corey Feldman (July 16, 1971 – )
Corey Feldman’s career began acting in commercials, but soon broke into films starring in cult-classics Gremlins, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, and The Goonies. He also acted in Stand By Me with River Phoenix, before landing his career-defining role in The Lost Boys alongside Corey Haim. Feldman and Haim had previously competed for roles – Haim also auditioned for the role of Mouth in The Goonies, although Feldman secured the part – and soon became friends on and off screen. The pair made many teen films together, including License to Drive and Dream a Little Dream. In 1990 Feldman provided the voice of Donatello for the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film. Since the 2000s, apart from his project The Two Coreys, Feldman has concentrated on his musical career. Feldman has also struggled with substance abuse problems throughout his lifetime.
Neil Patrick Harris (June 15, 1973 – )
Harris started off as the precociously talented teen-doctor in Doogie Howser M.D. Clearly a comedy, the show also had a dramatic vein, and explored issues such as racism, the American medical system, and AIDs – as well as typical teen issues of friendship, popularity and the all-important divesting of virginity. He has gone on to star in the surprisingly successful How I Met Your Mother, and as a wannabe-villain with a heart of gold Joss Whedon’s online musical mini-series, Dr. Horrble’s Sing-Along Blog. Harris has led a rather less tragic life than some other 80s child stars: he is openly and happily gay, and is a magician.
Michael J. Fox (June 9 1961 – )
Michael J Fox got his break as the Young Republican Alex P. Keaton in the seven season-long Family Ties, after Matthew Broderick turned down the role. Although Fox was 20 when the show started filming, the notoriously baby-faced Fox certainly looked young enough to appear on this list. Fox went on to star in the Back to the Future franchise, about a time-traveling teen. As well as starring in kitsch classics such as Teen Wolf, Fox also built-up a reputation as a respectable actor. His last major film roles were in Mars Attacks! and The Frighteners. In 1991, Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which he revealed to the public in 1998 whilst still starring in his hit TV show Spin City. The one-time teen sensation has since devoted himself to finding a cure, establishing the Michael J. Fox Foundation – though he has also taken the time to cameo as an obsessive-compulsive doctor in Scrubs.
Gary Coleman (February 8, 1968 – May 28, 2010)
The diminutive Gary Coleman starred the 1980s sitcom Diff’rent Strokes as Arnold Jackson, and his catchphrase – “Watchoo talkin’ ‘bout, Wllis?” – became firmly entrenched in pop-culture consciousness. After the show was cancelled Coleman struggled to find other acting work, and suffered from numerous financial difficulties, health problems and legal issues throughout the rest of his short life. He lost an estimated $18 million dollar fortune. Although he had undergone two kidney transplants before the age of 14, Coleman lived until he was 42 years old, when he died of a brain hemorrhage.
Honourable mentions for 80s child stars – who fit into the Neil Patrick Harris-category of continuing to be able to work – include Drew Barrymore, Sarah Jessica Parker and Jason Bateman. It’s not all doom and gloom.