From The Mickey Mouse Club to Lizzie McGuire to Hannah Montana, generations of children have been enjoying the TV shows produced by The Disney Channel. While such programs have brought joy and enthusiasm to many children, the young actors of these shows do not always benefit from their early acting experiences. While Disney has had a hand in jump starting many careers, there is a large number of Disney stars who went absolutely wild when they grew up. DUIs, arrests, drug addictions, and eating disorders have plagued some of America’s favorite sweethearts.
Some of the most infamous Disney stars gone wild are Britney Spears (The Mickey Mouse Club), Lindsay Lohan (The Parent Trap) and, most recently, Miley Cyrus (Hannah Montana).
Spears was one of the first modern stars to begin their career on The Disney Channel, starring on The Mickey Mouse Club in the early 1990s at the age of eleven. By 2001, her first single “Baby One More Time” was at the top of the charts. Spears became a princess of pop, releasing one hit song after another and reaping the benefits of stardom.
However, her winning streak could only last so long. By 2007 Spears had divorced her husband, lost custody of her children, been in and out of multiple drug rehabilitation facilities, and shaved her head using electric clippers in a hair salon in LA. So where did it all go wrong? When did this sweet and innocent child star turn into a girl gone wild? This is a question that arises when we look at many of Spears’s fellow Disney stars.
After her spiral out of control Spears was able to get back into the studio, creating more hits and regaining the dignity of her career. Trying, and not succeeding, to salvage her name in a similar way as former Disney star Lindsay Lohan.
Lohan jumpstarted her career at the age of twelve with Disney’s movie The Parent Trap. After seeing enormous success with the film, Lohan later starred in other Disney movies such as Life-Size, Get a Clue, and Freaky Friday. She eventually branched out from Disney, starring in her most successful film, Mean Girls in 2004.
By 2006, Lohan was attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and had checked herself into her first rehabilitation center. She was arrested for the first time in 2007 after being found driving under the influence and possession of cocaine, and has been dragged into court over twenty times since then. Her criminal record includes DUIs, possession of drugs, stealing a $2,500 necklace from a jeweler, skipping bail, and allegedly assaulting a woman outside of a club. With a number of rehab stays under her belt, Lohan now claims to be on the straight and narrow, trying to fix her life.
Currently on a similar downward spiral is twenty year old Miley Cyrus. Cyrus got her big break on the Disney show Hannah Montana at the age of twelve. The TV show was an enormous success, running from 2006-2010 and earning Cyrus both fame and fortune. Cyrus’ early career looked promising with successful albums such as Breakout and Can’t Be Tamed and the lead role in the movie The Last Song.
Cyrus originally had a squeaky clean reputation, known for her good-girl attitude and Christian faith. Her first bit of controversy was in 2010, when a video leaked of her smoking a bong of salvia. Last year, Cyrus caused an uproar amongst her fans by chopping off her long brown hair in favor of a spiky blonde pixy cut. Cyrus has been creating a new, scandalous image for herself with music from her upcoming album, Bangerz.
The first single, “We Can’t Stop” contains lyrics such as “We like to party/ dancing with Molly” in reference to the drug. The lyric “Everyone in line in the bathroom/ trying to get a line in the bathroom” is assumed to be referring to taking lines of cocaine. The music video for the song has received severe scrutiny, though it was nowhere near as controversial as her performance on MTV’s 2013 Video Music Awards this August. Cyrus’ half naked “twerking” on the VMA stage has been the talk of the nation ever since. Most recently, the video for Bangerz second single, “Wrecking Ball” was released in September and displays a naked Cyrus sitting on top of a demolition ball. Though Cyrus has so far avoided any trouble with the law, many believe that this insane behavior is only the beginning.
Though these are some of the most infamous examples of Disney gone bad, there are countless young stars who have encountered difficulties in their adult lives. Christina Aguilera (The Mickey Mouse Club) has been under scrutiny for drinking problems and severe weight loss – weight gain. Demi Lovato (Camp Rock) checked herself into rehab in 2010 for a severe eating disorder and self-harm issues. High School Musical stars Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens have both found trouble in recent years; Efron has a cocaine addiction and has been to rehab twice in the past year, and Hudgens’s image suffered when nude photos of her were leaked onto the internet. Shia LaBeouf (Even Stevens) and Mitchel Musso (Hannah Montana) have both been arrested for DUI; Hilary Duff (Lizzie McGuire) and Raven Symone (That’s So Raven) both underwent dangerous weight loss after their figures were criticized by the media.
With all of these stars gone wrong, the real question that must be asked is “why?” Why have so many beloved child stars become involved with drugs, alcohol, and eating disorders? Child star, Mara Wilson (star of the 1996 film Matilda) has written a lot on the topic. She believes that the parents of many child actors cannot or will not help them. The parents themselves find it too hard to adjust to the Hollywood life, or do not see the warning signs until it is too late. Parents of child stars are often unable to find the right way to support and keep their children grounded.
Wilson also stated that child stars quickly become spoiled once they become accustomed to getting whatever they want, whenever they want it. Wilson wrote, “It’s called the hedonic treadmill… means that even people who have the best of everything quickly become used to it. The thrill of new things and new experiences always wears off.”
She also writes that children become accustomed to the attention they receive when they are young and adorable, and then are unable to handle the loss of fame when they go through the awkward phase of puberty. Child actors who do not go through said awkward phase become teen idols, and often sex symbols. This leaves them feeling vulnerable and exploited. Some stars even admit to having been sexually assaulted while acting as children.
Wilson wrote that it is natural for teenagers to rebel at some point, though child stars are unable to do this because they are constantly in the public eye. There is an insane level of stress put on them to be perfect, so when they eventually do break out of their shell they do it in a big way.
Finally, child stars cannot escape what is happening. They often have little education and no experience with other jobs. They do not know what else to do with their lives other than stay in show business, even if this is the worst thing for them. Wilson summarizes the struggle by saying that “It’s a constant damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation: if former child actors bring up their past, they’re washed-up opportunists shilling for attention. If they never do, they’re clearly in denial. If they say it was fantastic, they’re full of shit. If they acknowledge that it wasn’t always fantastic, they’re bitter.” It seems that child stars simply cannot win. After getting locked into show business, it becomes almost impossible to get out unscathed.
One example of child stars who did leave show business after Disney Channel was Dylan and Cole Sprouse (Suite Life of Zack and Cody). When Disney denied the Sprouse twins their request to convert from acting to writing, they decided to attend college and live their lives as normal teenagers.
In fact, most Disney child stars who stayed out of trouble have also stayed out of the limelight. There is a very small list of Disney stars who retained their fame without going insane. This list includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Angels in the Outfield) and the Jonas Brothers, who are still making music and have no scandal attached to their name.
Another Disney star who has maintained a positive reputation and continues improving her career is Selena Gomez. Gomez, age 21, starred on Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place from 2007-2012. Gomez’s first album Kiss and Tell was recorded with her band “Selena Gomez and the Scene.” Gomez’s first solo album, Stars Dance, was released this July with positive feedback from the critics. Her song “Come and Get It” topped the charts, and she is currently in the middle of a nationwide tour. She has also acted in non-Disney movies such as Spring Breakers and Getaway. So far, there have been no arrests, drug use, or alcoholism claims made against Gomez. Hopefully she will defy the odds and avoid the descent into madness many before her have traveled.
One of the most successful Disney stars of all time is Justin Timberlake. Like Spears, Timberlake was on The Mickey Mouse Club as a child. Unlike Spears, Timberlake was able to avoid a tragic downfall. He gained fame from the boy band ‘N Sync, and later became well known as a solo artist with singles such as “Sexy Back” and “What Goes Around… Comes Around.”
Timberlake has also dominated the silver screen in movies such as The Social Network and Friends with Benefits. His third and most recent solo album, The 20/20 Experience was released in January of 2013 and was an immediate success. He is currently on tour with Jay-Z, and recently received the Video Vanguard Award from MTV. The award acknowledged the influence Timberlake has had on the music industry. With his extreme success, it is safe to assume that most current Disney stars wish to have a career like Timberlake’s.
Looking at the tragic history of Disney stars, it seems surprising that there are still parents who allow their children to work for The Disney Channel. Unfortunately, this trend is not limited to Disney. Child stars from Nickelodeon and other television and movie networks have also fallen from grace. It seems that this is simply the nature of the beast. The culture of Hollywood and pressure of fame is simply not an adequate way for a child to grow up.