Brad Renfro died. Why is it this makes me so sad? Another young actor taken by drugs. It happens. I loved that kid’s energy. I noticed it early. He just had a presence. He was in the movie, Sleepers. Now, there was a movie with tough material. Unbelievable material. He was amazing in that awful story. Everything horrible that happened to the character in that movie showed on that kid’s face. Later when I heard of him having drug problems, he reminded me of River Phoenix and I hoped it wouldn’t end up being what he was known for. He obviously chose a path to learn something, but I don’t think he got it. Now he will have to come back and do it again.
There is so much I don’t understand. I’m not sitting here lamenting the travesty at the waste of youth; I get it that young people die as well as old people. I’m not lamenting the shame of it, although I recognize that it is a shame and that is something to lament. What I don’t understand is what his energy was like right before he died. What was out there? If he had made a different choice than the one that led to his death, would he realize he had dodged a bullet?
The news headline says “Troubled Actor Brad Renfro Dies at 25.” That’s what they call him, “troubled actor.” It sucks. We won’t see talented kid whose presence affected people. At least I noticed him. He may not have had the blockbuster of Haley Osmont or Dakota Fanning, but he could act and he continued working. He was this little kid and he had access to his emotions, could put them out there for us on the screen. People magazine called him one to watch under 30 when he was 13 years old. Maybe that is part of why he was troubled, those available emotions. Maybe not. Maybe he just started taking drugs for fun and then could not stop. But I looked at his bio on IMDB and saw that he was raised by his grandma. Sounds like maybe things weren’t so kosher at home. I doubt this all happened in a vacuum.
Addendum: A few days after his death, I did some searching and discovered on Wikipedia that he indeed had trouble at home before he was ever cast in a movie. He’d had run-ins with the law by age ten, and the director who cast him in his first movie, The Client, saw that maturity and pain in his eyes that I saw on the screen as well. Apparently, the director said he wanted “a tough and savvy survivor, a kid with an authentic Southern accent, a kid from a trailer park, like the character in the movie.” He then found Renfro in a police station.
Over the next couple of weeks, if they deem him a big enough star to warrant any attention, the rag mags will trot out all the stories, rehash his “troubled” history, and come to the same sad conclusion that Hollywood is terrible for kids. But I think they miss the point. Troubled dysfunctional families are terrible for kids. Not having the time to develop the tools to deal with growing up in troubled dysfunctional families is terrible for anyone, whether in Hollywood or not. Growing up in families that don’t give you those tools forces us to sink or swim. And sometimes, even when you think you’re swimming, you may only be treading water.