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Also Known As: Brad Barron Renfro Died: January 15, 2008
Born: July 25, 1982 Cause of Death: overdose of heroin
Birth Place: East Knoxville, Tennessee, USA Profession: actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

A precociously talented child star who fell prey to Hollywood's all-too-common tragic trajectory, Brad Renfro wowed critics and fans with his debut opposite Susan Sarandon in the John Grisham adaptation "The Client" (1994). Tween-friendly turns in the AIDS-themed drama "The Cure" (1995) and opposite Jonathan Taylor Thomas in "Tom and Huck" (1995) augured teen idolhood, but the hard-edged Renfro resisted being packaged. Gravitating towards darker, unconventional material, Renfro revealed much of himself in a string of sensitive but emotionally damaged characters in projects like "Sleepers" (1996) as the younger version of Brad Pitt, "Apt Pupil" (1998) as a twisted teen homoerotically fascinated by a former Nazi, an abused youth driven to murder his best friend in Larry Clark's powerful "Bully" (2001), and a sweet-natured but aimless convenience store clerk in the cult favorite "Ghost World" (2001). Renfro's personal demons and drug and alcohol addiction proved his undoing, and just as his child stardom was transitioning into an interesting and offbeat adult acting career, Renfro descended into never-ending legal troubles that destroyed his personal and professional lives. Tragically, the talented...

A precociously talented child star who fell prey to Hollywood's all-too-common tragic trajectory, Brad Renfro wowed critics and fans with his debut opposite Susan Sarandon in the John Grisham adaptation "The Client" (1994). Tween-friendly turns in the AIDS-themed drama "The Cure" (1995) and opposite Jonathan Taylor Thomas in "Tom and Huck" (1995) augured teen idolhood, but the hard-edged Renfro resisted being packaged. Gravitating towards darker, unconventional material, Renfro revealed much of himself in a string of sensitive but emotionally damaged characters in projects like "Sleepers" (1996) as the younger version of Brad Pitt, "Apt Pupil" (1998) as a twisted teen homoerotically fascinated by a former Nazi, an abused youth driven to murder his best friend in Larry Clark's powerful "Bully" (2001), and a sweet-natured but aimless convenience store clerk in the cult favorite "Ghost World" (2001). Renfro's personal demons and drug and alcohol addiction proved his undoing, and just as his child stardom was transitioning into an interesting and offbeat adult acting career, Renfro descended into never-ending legal troubles that destroyed his personal and professional lives. Tragically, the talented young actor died of a heroin overdose on Jan. 15, 2008, reminding more than a few of River Phoenix, and robbing himself and the world of ever realizing his amazing, unconventional potential.

Born July 25, 1982 in Knoxville, TN, Brad Barron Renfro experienced an underprivileged, tumultuous childhood and was raised from the age of five by his paternal grandmother, a church secretary. Discovered by Joel Schumacher's casting director, Renfro proved a natural and charismatic talent and was chosen to play the young lead in the movie adaptation of John Grisham's thriller "The Client" (1994) opposite Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones. Unlike many prepackaged, preprocessed child stars, Renfro's rough-edged vulnerability and streetwise smarts coupled with a genuine acting ability made critics take note. The actor even received a Young Artist Award for his amazing work in the film. Renfro delivered on his initial promise by next co-starring as a neighborhood tough who helps a shunned, HIV-positive child (Joseph Mazzello) search for "The Cure" (1995), nabbing a YoungStar Award as well a nomination for a second Young Artist Award.

Pairing Renfro's bad boy appeal as Huckleberry Finn with proto-heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas as Tom Sawyer in the tween-friendly "Tom and Huck" (1995) helped solidify the actor's fame with a certain age group, but Renfro showed his more rebellious, spikier stripes when he publicly slammed the movie for being too bland and innocuous. Drawn to darker material and haunted by his own demons, Renfro seemed more at home in grittier projects such as the adaptation of Lorenzo Carcaterra's bestseller "Sleepers" (1996). The tale of the far-ranging effects of the abuse perpetuated by a sadistic juvenile detention guard (Kevin Bacon) on a group of Hell's Kitchen teens, the project boasted a dream cast including Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro as well as Renfro as the younger version of Brad Pitt. He next reunited with Bacon in Guy Ferland's acclaimed "Telling Lies in America" (1997) to play a Hungarian immigrant apprenticed to a corrupt radio DJ.

At a professional crossroads, Renfro proved himself dedicated to a more challenging career path with his starring role in Bryan Singer's "Apt Pupil" (1998). Based on a Stephen King novella, the film featured Renfro as a twisted student obsessed with Nazism who blackmails an elderly neighbor (Ian McKellen) and former concentration camp guard into a heavily homoerotic and murderous relationship. Although the Saturn Award-nominated Renfro and Saturn Award-winning McKellen gave admirably committed performances, the material was too dark and challenging to enjoy commercial success, especially with allegations arising that director Singer had manipulated several underage boys into performing a fully nude shower scene in a fantasy sequence. With the film, Renfro fully shook off his mantle of teen idolhood, revealing himself to be a more layered, unpredictable young talent.

The sad-eyed star next earned critical acclaim for his powerful performance as a sexually confused, troubled Florida teen who helps carry out the murder of his abusive, domineering best friend (Nick Stahl) in Larry Clark's searing "Bully" (2001). Continuing to accrue artistic credibility, Renfro took a small role as Josh, a convenience store clerk who alternately fascinates and bores two disaffected lost girls (Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson) in the cult hit "Ghost World" (2001). Although he continued to work, Renfro's iconoclastic tastes and increasing personal problems hindered his career with little-seen nonstarters like the 1980s-set drama "Tart" (2002) and the street gang action dramedy "Deuces Wild" (2002). Drugs, alcohol and a trouble-seeking personality all helped orchestrate Renfro's downfall. As with many child stars, his initial breakthrough was followed by a difficult transition into adulthood, and his own issues helped destroy his professional reputation and momentum. Arrested in his home state for possession of marijuana and cocaine in 1998, Renfro pled no contest and agreed to random drug tests to stave off a conviction. Unfortunately, he was unable to resist his demons and was arrested in 2000 for grand theft and criminal mischief for attempting to steal a yacht. Although he managed to avoid serious jail time, he found himself standing in front of a judge again in 2001, when he was arrested for underage drinking.

Tragically, Renfro's descent did not stop there, and he was arrested yet again less than a year later for driving without a license and public intoxication. The charges were compounded by his violating probation, and he ended up behind bars and then in rehab for three months. Slated to begin his comeback as the male lead in the horror mash-up "Freddy vs. Jason" (2003), Renfro was dropped from the film and his professional instability helped exacerbate the influence of his personal demons. Although he pulled himself together enough to lens the starring role in a straight-to-video action flick "The Job" (2003) as well as a small role in the Adrien Brody/Keira Knightley time travel thriller "The Jacket" (2005), his professional reputation suffered irreparable damage from this string of events and the once-promising rising star was relegated to tabloid footnote and cautionary tale.

The severity of Renfro's case only truly came to light in December 2005, when he was arrested in downtown Los Angeles for attempting to purchase heroin. Pleading guilty, Renfro attempted rehab again, but faced with the tatters of his personal and professional lives, was unable to escape the vicious cycle of addiction. Stringing together the occasional project but clearly in desperate straits, the actor had completed the Bret Easton Ellis adaptation "The Informers" (2008) with Winona Ryder and Billy Bob Thornton when his tragic story came to an abrupt close. On Jan. 15, 2008, at the age of 25, Renfro was found dead in his Los Angeles home of an accidental heroin overdose. With his death, many were surprised to discover Renfro had fathered a secret son with a Japanese woman. A week later came a sad footnote to Renfro's story when 28-year-old Heath Ledger died of an overdose, completely eclipsing Renfro in terms of public interest, ultimate legacy and critical appraisal.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Informers, The (2009)
2.
 10th and Wolf (2006)
3.
 Jacket, The (2005) Cast
4.
 Hollywood Flies (2005)
5.
 Chasing Holden (2002)
7.
 Deuces Wild (2002) Bobby
8.
 Ghost World (2001) Josh
9.
 Happy Campers (2001) Wichita
10.
 Bully (2001) Mario 'Marty' Puccio
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised by his paternal grandmother in Knoxville, TN
:
Acted in school productions sponsored by DARE; a program that deals with the dangers of drugs
1994:
Feature debut, a starring role as a young targeted witness, in Joel Schumacher's "The Client"
1995:
Played the neighborhood toughguy who befriends a stigmatized HIV-positive youngster in "The Cure"
1995:
Played Huckleberry Finn opposite Jonathan Taylor Thomas' Tom Sawyer in Disney's "Tom and Huck"
1996:
Portrayed Brad Pitt's character as a teenager in the gritty drama "Sleepers"
1997:
Played a teenage boy embroiled in the 1960s radio payola scandal in Guy Ferland's "Telling Lies in America"
1998:
Starred as a high school student obsessively fasinated with Nazism in Bryan Singer's "Apt Pupil"
2001:
Acted alongside Jennifer Jason Leigh in the 1960s-set coming of age drama "Skipped Parts"
2001:
Had leading role of a troubled Florida teen who turns on his abusive friend in Larry Clark's "Bully"; based on the 1993 murder of Bobby Kent and adapted from the book <i>Bully: A True Story of High School Revenge</i>
2001:
Co-starred with Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson in Terry Zwigoff's "Ghost World"
2005:
Cast in the psychological thriller "The Jacket"
2006:
Starred in "10th and Wolf" an indie film based on a story by Bobby Moresco and Chazz Palminteri
2009:
Appeared in final film, "The Informers"; based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel (released posthumously)
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

In August 2000, Renfro was arrested and charged with grand theft after allegedly attempting to steal a yacht valued in excess of $100,000 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was in Florida shooting a film entitled "Bully" (2001) and was released on $10,000 bail. In January 2001, the actor was sentenced to two-year's probation and fined over $4000.

Renfro was arrested in May 2001 for underage drinking.

The actor was again arrested for public intoxication and driving without a license on January 14, 2002. As a result, he was incarcerated in Fort Lauderdale, Florida when he turned himself on charges of violating his probation. Renfro was sentenced to 90 days of rehabilitation.

"Brad Renfro got the part of the wiseass kid in "The Client" because that's exactly what he is. He has the qualifications being that he's the product of a broken home, extremely sensitive, and too smart for his own good. Joel Schumacher, who directed the film [in which the boy becomes a pawn in a mob case] illustrates these points with a story.

'Brad had on a Megadeth T-shirt, and I took him to meet Warner Bros. senior vice-president Lorenzo Di Bonaventura. Brad sat down and Lorenzo said, 'Do you like this group? They're a great group.' And Brad said, 'You like Megadeth?' And he said, 'Yeah.' And Brad said, 'I don't think you've ever heard of Megadeth. I think you're one of those adults who say they like the same music a kid likes so we'll like you better. Well, we don't.'"

--From "Rushes: Breaking Away" by John Clark in Premiere, August 1994.

"The shoot, of course, has ended, but Schumacher and Brad's relationship has not. Schumacher, who sees in the kid a kindred spirit, enrolled him in a Montessori school, where he'll get a better education and, he hopes, won't be in as many fights. As for Brad's plans: 'When I'm fourteen, Joel is going to adopt me, and when I'm sixteen, I'm going to graduate. Then I'm going to UCLA and to film school and then I'm going to be a famous director and Joel's going to be old and gray and can't hold his water.'

'He won't even take my calls,' Schumacher says, smiling.

Brad laughs. 'I won't even take his calls.'"

--From "Rushes: Breaking Away" by John Clark in Premiere, August 1994.

"[Susan Sarandon] said that Brad's confidence and aggressiveness were appealing, if a little startling. 'By the end of the shoot, he was actually giving me notes saying things like, 'I think you missed it,' or, 'This could have been funnier,' she said with a laugh. 'Had he been three times his age it wouldn't have been so funny.'"

--From "For 'Client,' a Survivor, Age 10" by Bernard Weinraub in The New York Times, July 12, 1994.

"I don't want to become some huge movie star before my time, so I just try to take it really slow. I want to be up-and-coming until I'm past tense." --Renfro quoted in Vanity Fair, April 1998

" ... I learned so much from Ian McKellen, but it wasn't like I could learn the craft of acting. I'm sure you've heard of doing something and not knowing how you do it? That's pretty much where I come from. What interested me about him was how he handled people. He makes everyone feel so comfortable. I tried to learn that from him, because it's something I need to learn." --Brad Renfro about filming "Apt Pupil" quoted in Time Out New York, October 15-22, 1998.

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Jennifer. Dating in 2001.

Family close complete family listing

grandmother:
Joanne Renfro. Church secretary. Raised Renfro.
father:
Mark Renfro. Factory worker. Works in a blueprint factory; divorced from Renfro's mother in 1987; Renfro is their only child; lived with Renfro and grandmother for a while before remarrying and moving out.
mother:
Angela. Remarried; relocated from Knoxville, Tennessee to Michigan.

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