Thursday 17 October 2019

Would you Belieb it? Justin joins the child stars with growin' pains ...

The one-time cherubic teen icon risks following that well-worn road into a troubled adulthood, writes Ed Power

Bieber wows fans at a concert.
Bieber wows fans at a concert.
Michael Jackson at age 13
LINDSAY LOHAN
Singer Miley Cyrus
Judy Garland suffered breakdowns in her twenties

Ed Power

Tweendom heaved a collective sigh of relief this week as it was confirmed Justin Bieber will not be charged by the Swedish police who uncovered a small quantity of marijuana and a stun gun on his tour-bus. The cops had forced their way on to the Bieber-mobile as he was performing at a concert in Stockholm. An officer smelt something suspicions emanating from the coach and called in the Swedish equivalent of a heavy SWAT team.

However, because nobody from Team Bieber was on board, it is difficult under Swedish law to establish ownership of either the drugs or the taser.

"Justin will not be questioned because no one was on the bus when we searched it," said Stockholm police press officer Kjell Lengren. "So you don't know who to press charges against."

But while Biebs won't face any time in the clinker, the incident again highlights how tempestuous the once-cherubic singer's life has become.

In the past few months, he's been booed in London after turning up two hours late for a concert, infuriated parents by posting a snap of his exposed bum on the internet and had his pet ape confiscated by customs officials in Germany.

That's a lot of monkeying around for a tween icon whose good clean fun rating used to be off the scales.

Sprung from obscurity into the full glare of the international media as a 12-year-old, until now the Canadian has done a reasonable job of looking and sounding like a balanced human being. However, as he leaves adolescence and takes his first tentative steps into the world of grown-up obligation, is he poised to join one of the most oversubscribed clubs in entertainment: the child stars whose lives unravel in adulthood?

What with the primate woes and the high-pitched vocals, the casualty he bears closest resemblance to at first glance is Michael Jackson.

Both were shoved into the spotlight outrageously young and required to heft multi-million dollar brands on their shoulders. More than that, both were so consumed by fame it appeared to alter something at the very deepest level. Celebrity changed their DNA.

Jackson was even younger than Bieber when he embarked on the road to celeb-dom. Born in poverty in a Chicago suburb – the family of 12 lived in a three-room house – he started off fronting the Jackson Five as a seven-year-old in 1965.

It was immediately obvious to the Jackson family that the precocious youngster was a golden goose.

He was doomed to spend the rest of his childhood living up to lofty expectations.

The Jackson Five signed with Motown records in 1968. By then, 10-year-old Jacko was a seasoned showman, his typical day a blur of performance, rehearsal and recording. He would later confide that he felt his childhood was snatched away – a loss that may have shaped his eccentricity as an adult (that trademark boyish speaking voice was, according to friends, an affectation, prompted by a desire to connect with his inner nine-year-old).

The tragic arc of Michael Jackson's life provides the best-known example of a child star growing into a tortured adult. Nevertheless, its trajectory is far from unique.

In Hollywood, there is a depressing tradition of young over-achievers flirting into oblivion. Most obviously, we have the cautionary tale of Lindsay Lohan, ushered into the celebrity universe as a freckled 11-year-old in the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap.

Lohan had a turbulent family background, her parents having separated twice by her 10th birthday (divorcing for good in 2007). Still, even in a featherweight production such as The Parent Trap her star power was obvious. She seemed to be carrying through with her promise, shining as a dorky teen in 2004's Mean Girls.

But an outwardly well adjusted child was growing into a troubled adult and, by her last true starring role, 2005's Herbie Fully Loaded, her destructive partying was the chief narrative (such was her reputation that, when Herbie was released, it was decided to remove her image from certain posters).

She is nowadays considered too risky to insure by major studios and, thus, is restricted to stunt casting (she played Elizabeth Taylor in a much-derided TV biopic last year) and straight-to-DVD obscurities.

Lohan's substance issues are widely publicised. If little in her life and career is predictable, when it comes to chemical dependency, she cleaves faithfully to the child-star stereotype.

There is a sordid history of former kid actors seeking pharmaceutical consolation as their professional stature slide down the tubes in adulthood.

A notorious case is that of Edward Furlong, aged 12 when he starred in Terminator 2, who has spent a great swathe of his 20s and 30s battling substance abuse addiction.

Despite his youth, he was a mercurial presence in T2, evoking a young Brando in the way he cocked his lip and held a snarl. However, Furlong would quickly develop a fatal weakness for excess. In 1997 he attended AA and spent a period at a $500-a-night rehab centre. Four years later, he required hospitalisation for a suspected overdose after a passerby discovered him face down in a pool of vomit.

In a subsequent interview he admitted to spending a chunk of the 1990s on hard drugs. Last October, he was arrested on domestic abuse charges. Photos of the actor taken after the incident showed him overweight and pasty faced. A star no longer, he's just a tubby regular dude – one of us, not one of them.

Equally eyebrow-raising was Miley Cyrus's journey from quintessential cherub-next-door to bad girl. As Hannah Montana, she embodied squeaky wholesomeness. Eventually, though, Cyrus started to rebel against her unblemished image.

In 2009, she appalled executives at Disney, custodian of the Hannah Montana franchise, by appearing in a revealing Vanity Fair photoshoot. Twelve months after that, she killed off her sugar-sweet persona for good when footage of her appearing to puff a bong was leaked to gossip websites.

In a statement she pleaded for understanding, acknowledging that she had let fans down. And this week she caused a stir with a risque photoshoot for V Magazine shot by Mario Testino.

Not every child star is destined for unhappiness. Mickey Rooney crawled on stage for the first time as a 14-month-old and landed a Hollywood recurring role aged seven. By 15 he was extravagantly well known and yet transitioned quite seamlessly into adulthood.

Even if his career had its dips and its weaves, he never stopped working and in 1942 entered a stormy year-long marriage to Ava Gardner, one of the most glamorous stars of the day. Now aged 97, his latest screen role was a cameo in the 2011 The Muppets movie, marking his 10th decade on screen.

Of course, even in a supposedly more innocent age, child stars often went bad. Black-and-white star Judy Garland was just 13 when she was cast in her first movie.

"Judy was the big money-maker at the time, a big success, but she was the ugly duckling," said director Charles Walters, who worked with her on a number of projects.

In common with many adolescents, Garland struggled with self-image, not helped by her fluctuating weight. From the studio's perspective, a star with puppy fat wouldn't do. She resorted to taking slimming pills, and took amphetamines and barbiturates to help with an increasingly gruelling schedule.

In 1938, her icon-hood was sealed with The Wizard Of Oz (Garland was third choice for Dorothy, behind Shirley Temple and the late Deanna Durbin). The success of Oz did not bring happiness. She became estranged from her mother, allegedly as a result of a row over the direction of her career.

By her early 20s, nervous breakdowns were routine and she had a reputation as being difficult to work with.

"People put child stars on a pedestal," said friend and rival Durbin, following Garland's death from a barbiturate overdose in 1969.

"They expect them to be perfect little darlings; and to remain that way when they grow up. People criticise them when these stars grow up and prove themselves to be human beings with their own faults."

Forty-five years later, with Bieber's public unravelling showing little sign of ending, her words ring truer than ever.

Irish Independent

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