There is a stereotype that child actors have horrible upbringings, and their careers tend to crash and burn once they become adults. This is most likely due to the fact that stage parents are just trying to cash in on their son or daughter’s talent at a young age. Other times, when a child is suddenly thrust into the limelight of success, parents have no idea how to handle raising a mini-celebrity who makes more money than they do. In these 10 stories, child actors had to sue their parents for completely screwing up their lives.
10. Leighton Meester
In Gossip Girl, Leighton Meester played the queen bee, Blair Waldorf. In real life, she could not be farther from her spoiled little rich girl character. Meester was born in prison, because her mother Constance was jailed for a drug smuggling massive quantities of marijuana out of Jamaica. For the first few years of her life, Leighton was raised by her grandparents in Florida.
After getting out of jail, Constance Meester could no longer sell drugs, so she switched her focus to cashing in on her young daughter’s beauty, Constance started pushing Leighton into professional modeling at 10 and acting on TV at 13. Her mother moved the family to Los Angeles the very next year. Even at that young age, Leighton felt the weight of responsibility for paying for her family’s bills. She got the role on Gossip Girl at age 21, which thrust her into the limelight, along with providing a much bigger paycheck.
Leighton’s younger brother Alexander had medical issues, and her mother claimed that they had to pay a crippling amount of hospital bills. So, of course, Meester believed her mother, because what kind of monster would lie about such a thing? She gave her mom $7,500 every month to help her family. It turns out that instead of paying for the medical bills, Constance started buying expensive clothes and getting plastic surgery. When she found out, Leighton stopped giving money to her mother.
In 2010, Constance responded by telling TMZ and anyone in the press who that would listen that she had a “contract” with her daughter to get a $10,000 a month allowance… just because.
Meester sued her mother to prove in court that there was never any written contract, and she demanded custody of her brother, since he truly did need expensive medical care that the mother was not giving him. In the end, Leighton won the custody battle, and made sure that her brother got the care he needed. She cut off ties with her mother completely.
Today, Leighton Meester is married to Adam Brody, who was known for playing the socially awkward Seth Cohen in The OC. At the very least, she gets to have a happy ending.
9. Drew Barrymore
The Barrymore family is famous for having a long lineage of actors and actresses as far back as the 1800s. Drew Barrymore’s parents started putting her in movies when she was only 11-months-old. As a little girl, she starred in E.T. and quickly proved that she had just as much talent as most adult actors. However, growing up in a famous Hollywood family had a dark side. Drew’s parents took her to the Studio 54 nightclub to mingle with other actors. She started drinking and trying drugs at just 9-years-old. Her parents knew about this, and did nothing to stop it. When Drew became an addict, her mother put her in an institution for a year instead of changing her own behavior and ending the party life.
Going to rehab helped Barrymore realize that if she continued to live in the toxic environment with her parents, she would never get sober. So, at the age of 14, Drew Barrymore went to court to become emancipated from her parents. Strangely enough, her mother actually agreed, and wanted her daughter to live alone and start taking care of herself.
She got an apartment and tried going to a normal school, but she was so used to only a few hours of tutoring on a movie set all day, she dropped out and got a job washing dishes at a cafe instead. Eventually, she got back into acting, and managed to build her own career as an adult. Barrymore says she really never experienced a normal childhood.
8. LeAnn Rimes
Country singer LeAnn Rimes was raised by stage parents who wanted to see her succeed. She released her album “Blue” when she was only 13-years-old, and her family suddenly had millions of dollars in sales. A few months later, her parents got a divorce, and her father and business partner took roughly $7 million dollars of Rimes’ album sales for themselves. When she was 16, she realized that her father was taking advantage of her as a manager. She sued him in court for misappropriation of her money.
Everything changed when Rimes got engaged, and all she wanted was to fix the relationship with her father. She told the media that she realized that money is the root of all evil, and she blamed her success for tearing her family apart. She chose to drop the lawsuit against her father and repair their relationship so he could walk her down the aisle.
7. Macaulay Culkin
Everyone loves Macaulay Culkin in classic ’90s movies like Home Alone, Uncle Buck, and Richie Rich. He quickly became one of the most talented child actors of all-time. His parents never got married, so when their relationship began to crumble, there was no need for a formal divorce. However, they had an even bigger problem. They weren’t just fighting over who got custody over their kids. They were also battling over who would continue to work as Macaulay’s manager and receive 15% commission of the millions he made on each film.
Macaulay wasn’t the only Culkin child that was an actor. His parents put every single one of his siblings into show business, and the parents were managing all of their careers. After the breakup, his father Kit purposely began sabotaging the kids by withdrawing parental consent for his sons to star in movies out of sheer spite for his ex. No one wanted to work with the trainwreck of a family in the middle of the legal battle.
Macaulay was 15 at the time, and he decided that instead of picking one parent over the other, he would emancipate himself in court and become a legal adult so he could have control over his own earnings. This was in 1999, and he did not star in a movie again until 2003, when he played Michael Alig in Party Monster.
6. Ariel Winter
Ariel Winter began her acting career at age 4, and as a teenager, became a star of the TV show Modern Family. According to Winter, her mother would show up on set and harass the producers and directors during the filmmaking process. She claims that her mother’s behavior almost got her fired on multiple occasions, but they could not do much about it, because a guardian needs to be on set with a minor at all times.
In 2012, Winter went to court to ask for her older sister, 34-year-old Shanelle Gray, to become her legal guardian instead. Winter was 14 at the time. Her lawyer said that the cast and crew all gave him “detailed horror stories” about her mother’s abuse, like not allowing her daughter to eat on set, for fear of her gaining weight.
Even years after emancipating, Winter’s mother Crystal Workman continues to make backhanded comments about her daughter to the media, feigning concern for her well-being. Winter says her mother never tries to reach out to her directly to repair their relationship, and just talks about her to the media instead.
5. Mischa Barton
As a teenager, Mischa Barton became popular as a star of the TV show The OC. Her mother, Nuala Barton, had been her manager since she was 8. Mischa always allowed her mother to manage her money, and she saw no reason to let that change, even well into adulthood. However, when Mischa was 29-years-old, her mortgage stopped getting paid. When the house was $100,000 delinquent, it went into foreclosure.
Meanwhile, her mother bought herself a $7.8 million house with Mischa’s acting money. Barton’s name was on the deed of this second home, since her mother was using her daughter’s money to buy it. So, when Mischa demanded that they sell the house to pay for her mounting expenses, Nuala outright refused. She kicked Mischa out, changed the locks, and chased away any real estate agents that showed up to try to put the house on the market.
Mischa was forced to sue her mother in court for stealing her money. Typically, a manager only keeps 10% of an actor’s earnings, but Nuala Barton kept far more than that for herself. She blamed her daughter for not getting their working relationship in writing, even though she had been representing her since she was a child. They eventually dropped the case, and they resolved the issue in private.
4. Gary Coleman
In the 1970s, the TV show Diff’rent Strokes became iconic. Even to this day, people still quote Gary Coleman’s character with the line, “What you talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” Coleman was born with health issues with his kidneys. At just 5-years-old, he had a kidney transplant. Unfortunately, his body was rejecting the new organ, and he still needed dialysis treatments multiple times a day for his kidneys to function.
These medical issues stunted his growth, so he was shorter than the average person. In a way, it helped him extend his career playing a kid on TV. But as he grew up, it became much harder for him to adjust to real life.
Since he was a child during the filming of Diff’rent Strokes, his adoptive parents, agents, producers, and so many other people were dipping into his multi-million dollar paycheck. He should have had at least 25% of his pay set aside in an estate that would have been enough money to set him up for a comfortable life, but in the end, he was left with almost nothing. He had to sue his adoptive parents for stealing his money. Despite the fact that he won the case, his acting career was doomed. His money ran out quickly, and he was forced to work normal jobs and appear on the occasional reality TV show. He died at just 42-years-old.
3. Corey Feldman
After starring in The Goonies, Stand By Me, and Gremlins, Corey Feldman should have made millions for his roles. He started his career when he was only 3-years-old. When he was 14, he was curious to see the balance of his bank account. He was shocked to see that instead of the millions he was owed, his parents only set aside $40,000 for him, and spent the rest on themselves.
When he was 15, he had three contracts for movies coming up. Feldman knew that he had to emancipate himself from his parents in order to have even a chance of keeping his own paychecks. Even though they had already bled their son dry, his dad demanded the last $40,000 during the legal battle, which meant Feldman was completely broke until he got paid for his upcoming roles. After the drama with his parents, he started using drugs and tried a career in music. Today, he still acts, but in much (much) smaller roles than he was getting as a kid.
2. Tiffany Darwish
When she was only 10-years-old, Tiffany Darwish’s mother was having her sing in local bars to try to make her famous. She was eventually discovered by her manager, George Tobin. In 1987, the single “I Think We’re Alone Now” became an overnight success, and Tiffany Darwish became known as simply “Tiffany.” She became a teen superstar who toured around malls in the United States when she was 15. She had the number one album that year, and it sold 4 million copies.
Her mom stole 70% of her earnings, and only left 30% in a trust fund that she could not touch until she turned 18. After learning about this, Tiffany ran away from home to live with her grandmother, and sued for emancipation when she was 16. Her mother tried to blame the financial situation on Tobin. He countered that he had a standard contract. She was, however, obligated to make 7 more albums with him.
Unfortunately for Tiffany, none of her subsequent albums ever made as much of an impact as the first. She did a few small acting gigs, changed her music style a few times, and even posed for Playboy, but there were no more number-on-hit singles.
1. Billy Unger
Up-and-coming Disney Channel Lab Rats star Billy Unger’s father William was working as his manager. They never had a formal written contract, but Unger trusted his father to manage his finances for years, despite the fact that he had absolutely no training in the entertainment industry.
William started taking a 33% commission out of Billy’s paychecks rather than the industry standard of 10%. Instead of spending time helping to further his son’s career with new acting gigs, he used that extra money to take girlfriends on expensive vacations and pay for their rent.
William barely spoke to his son, and just spent his time galavanting with women. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Unger’s father stole even more of his son’s money to purchase a $1 million life insurance policy on Billy, listing himself as sole beneficiary. This was very unsettling and downright creepy, so in 2015, Unger sued his father for fraud, breach of contract, and negligent misrepresentation.