IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Bonaduce on Tatum O’Neal arrest: Blame upbringing

When a former child star like Tatum O’Neal falls into addiction, it’s often the parents who are to blame, said Danny Bonaduce, himself an ex-child celebrity. “If you were raised poorly, you will make bad decisions,” he said.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

When a former child star like Tatum O’Neal falls into the world of addiction, it’s often the parents who are to blame, said Danny Bonaduce, the former “The Partridge Family” star who’s been there and snorted that.

“You’re always going to trace this back to how you were raised. You’re not going to trace a child taking drugs to their career. You’re going to trace it back to their family,” Bonaduce told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Tuesday. “If you were raised poorly, you will make bad decisions.”

Bonaduce was speaking from Burbank the day after news broke that O’Neal had been arrested in New York City while allegedly buying cocaine and crack cocaine from a street vendor. O’Neal told Andrea Peyser of the New York Post that she was depressed over the recent loss of her 16-year-old Scottish terrier, Lena, and was going to end almost a year of sobriety. Peyser said O’Neal thanked the police for arresting her before she could take the drugs.

“I’m sorry her dog passed away, but I can’t imagine that some crack was really the answer to that,” Bonaduce said.

Starting youngAt the age of 10, O’Neal became the youngest person ever to win an Oscar, for her performance in “Paper Moon.” Soon, she was earning more money than any child star in history. She was also drinking from the age of 9 and doing hard drugs from when she was 12. She has accused her father, actor Ryan O’Neal, of being physically and mentally abusive, which he has vehemently denied.

Bonaduce, who went from child star to homeless addict before beginning a 15-year struggle to stay sober, sympathized with O’Neal. He has said that his father, the late Joseph Bonaduce, physically abused him when he was growing up.

“If Miss O’Neal was raised the way she says she was, the O’Neals and the Bonaduces play ‘Family Feud’ a lot differently than most people — and dangerously,” he said.

O’Neal, 44, is one of a long list of former child stars who have fallen into addiction to drugs and alcohol. Drew Barrymore, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan are poster children for the syndrome, but they’re hardly the only ones. Dana Plato, who starred as Kimberly Drummond in “Diff’rent Strokes,” committed suicide in 1999 after a long battle with addiction to prescription drugs. Leif Garrett, a teen singing idol from the 1970s, was sentenced to 90 days in jail in 2006 for drug violations. And Corey Feldman, a child star of “Gremlins,” “The Goonies” and “Stand by Me,” was arrested for heroin possession.

“It does seem it’s a curse,” said Dr. Julie Holland, a New York psychiatrist who has treated celebrity addicts. “It’s easier to list the children who haven’t fallen prey to addiction than those who have.”

Where is the love?Frequently, the problems start after the child star goes from cute kid to awkward adolescent, Holland told Vieira.

“You put a kid in front of an audience, on a stage, under a spotlight and they’re getting a lot of praise, adulation, and they’re adorable and they’re being adored by the audience. It feels like love,” she said. “When the roles dry up — and I think the roles do dry up in adolescence — the kids are gawky. They’ve got acne, patchy facial hair, their voices are changing. Their love is gone and they’re left alone without their audience and it’s very uncomfortable to be alone when you’ve had that experience. Adolescence is a prime time for experimenting with drugs and other risky behaviors. There is a confluence of things that are happening.”

That’s where parents should come in, Holland said, but “no one’s saying no to them. Kids need limits. They need boundaries. They’re naturally going to push against the boundaries and they need to know where the limits are, and you need to say no to them. For a kid to feel like they’re in charge, it’s very scary. And a good way to medicate the discomfort of being alone or the discomfort of feeling scared is with drugs and alcohol, and I think that’s what happens.”

Bonaduce agreed with the scenario Holland sketched out. “What happened was I became aware of another kind of lifestyle and became interested in it as other people do at a certain age, but I had the access to money as well at an early age,” he said from California, where he’s the host of a radio talk show. “You give a kid a gun, you’re going to find out that kid got in trouble with a gun. You give a kid money, he’s going to buy the wrong thing with it.”

Unlike stardom, addiction doesn’t go away. Bonaduce is 48 and still at war with alcohol.

“If I’ve only been sober for eight months and I’ve been trying for 15 years, I’ve gotta say it’s still a struggle,” Bonaduce admitted.

Comparing his situation with O’Neal’s, he said, “We’ll go back to the parenting every single time. When you were raised as roughly as Miss O’Neal was, that adulation of the audience being gone should be replaced by the adulation and love of your family. And if you’re not getting that, you can get it in a bottle. I promise you I can get comfort in a bottle, and I can get it quickly and so can Miss O’Neal.”

Vieira asked Bonaduce what advice he could give to O’Neal.

“I would say come over to my house. Come stay with me for a while,” he said. “Come stay with me and my girlfriend and see how much fun we have stone-cold sober. Life is a lot better when you’re not anesthetized.”