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At the peak of his television fame, child star Kirk Cameron made himself into the smarmy-grinned, smart-mouth teen archetype during the heyday of saccharine 1980s sitcoms. As the breakthrough, mullet-sporting star of the ostensible family comedy "Growing Pains" (ABC, 1985-1992), Cameron graced many a Tiger Beat cover as a teen heartthrob, even while he badgered and cajoled co-stars, writers and producers behind the scenes to keep the already antiseptic show in line with his personal evangelical dogma. When his acting opportunities tapered off as he grew older, he turned to working as a celebrity spokesman for minister Ray Comfort, whose ultra-right wing Christian fundamentalist message meshed with the former star's return to acting in the series of movies based on the apocalyptic Left Behind novels. Ever associated with the scheming, girl-crazy Mike Seaver of "Growing Pains," Cameron would carve away at that warm and fuzzy legacy by presenting himself as an increasingly pious gadfly, crusading for prayer in schools and the study of creationism to the exclusion of science, and vocalizing his anti-gay rights stance at every opportunity, despite working alongside these very people in an industry that...
At the peak of his television fame, child star Kirk Cameron made himself into the smarmy-grinned, smart-mouth teen archetype during the heyday of saccharine 1980s sitcoms. As the breakthrough, mullet-sporting star of the ostensible family comedy "Growing Pains" (ABC, 1985-1992), Cameron graced many a Tiger Beat cover as a teen heartthrob, even while he badgered and cajoled co-stars, writers and producers behind the scenes to keep the already antiseptic show in line with his personal evangelical dogma. When his acting opportunities tapered off as he grew older, he turned to working as a celebrity spokesman for minister Ray Comfort, whose ultra-right wing Christian fundamentalist message meshed with the former star's return to acting in the series of movies based on the apocalyptic Left Behind novels. Ever associated with the scheming, girl-crazy Mike Seaver of "Growing Pains," Cameron would carve away at that warm and fuzzy legacy by presenting himself as an increasingly pious gadfly, crusading for prayer in schools and the study of creationism to the exclusion of science, and vocalizing his anti-gay rights stance at every opportunity, despite working alongside these very people in an industry that initially made him a star.
He was born Kirk Thomas Cameron on Oct. 12, 1970, in Panorama City, CA to Robert Cameron, a teacher, and Barbara Cameron, a homemaker. Though his parents initially did not project show business aspirations onto their children, a family friend in the business noted to Barbara that both Kirk and sister Candace were cute enough that they could easily pick up lucrative work in commercials. After Cameron began appearing in TV ads for Polaroid, McDonald's and Count Chocula cereal, he found himself wound up in Hollywood's notorious child-star mill, netting minor cute-kid parts in a handful of TV movies, including a couple of Disney projects and two "ABC After School Specials" (1972-95). In 1983, he landed a regular gig as a precocious kid in ABC's "Two Marriages," a show that remained on the air less than a month. He found a more winning formula in 1985 with "Growing Pains," playing the oldest son of a family headed by a psychiatrist (Alan Thicke) and a journalist (Joanna Kerns), one in a sequence of family network sitcoms characterized by with-it parents and mischievous-but-squeaky-clean kids. On the show, Cameron playing the incorrigible but dumb Mike Seaver and his winning portrayal won over a large number of teen fans. In spite of scathing critical notices, "Growing Pains" ranked among Nielsen's top 20 network shows for its first four seasons, rising to No. 5 in its 1987-88 year. On the heels of his sitcom success, Cameron appeared in his first feature film in 1986, the Robin Williams/Kurt Russell glory-days comedy "The Best of Times."
ABC would pump up Cameron as its "It" boy, and his trademark smirk in coming years would grace covers of a raft of teen magazines. Meanwhile, job offers cropped up to exploit his proverbial 15 minutes; he played the son/father of Dudley Moore in "Like Father Like Son" (1987), one of Hollywood's periodic flavor-du-jour retreads of the mystical parent/sibling body-switch comedies; netted the starring role in a high-profile Pepsi Super Bowl XXIV commercial; rated top-billing in "Listen to Me" (1989), an overwrought, widely-panned college drama about debate team wonks arguing against Roe v. Wade; and did a guest-shot alongside sister Candace on her ABC sister sitcom "Full House" (1987-1995). Firmly established as the resident star of "Growing Pains," Cameron saw his pay jump to $50,000 a week and his fans sending him some 10,000 letters a week. But his coming-of-age took an unexpected turn, at least for everyone who worked with him. As he would later recall it in his autobiography, Still Growing, the family of his first girlfriend initially exposed the 17-year-old to evangelical Christianity. Cameron experienced what he would later describe as a "life-changing encounter with Jesus" and declared himself "born again."
He would bring his religion to work, manifesting as an unrelenting puritanism. Actor Julie McCullough, his on-air girlfriend, whom Mike Seaver was about to marry at the end of the 1988-89 season, now became anathema to Cameron for having previously posed nude in Playboy, and he demanded she be written out of the show. Cameron would strike up a real-life relationship with another on-show love interest, Chelsea Noble, who, also born again, would marry him in 1991, but his missionary zeal would alienate much of the rest of the cast and crew. Cameron insisted Mike's character morph into a more virtuous young man and objected to any remote sexual innuendo in scripts. Cameron reputedly upbraided fellow cast members about their own impieties, and his continuous nitpicking of writers and producers Dan Guntzelman, Mike Sullivan and Steve Marshall ultimately led to Cameron phoning the president of ABC to complain that the producers were attempting to morph "Growing Pains" into pornography. The three producers quit after the show's sixth season, and by end of the seventh, in spite of the improbable addition of an adorable new moppet played by Leonardo DiCaprio, the show's ratings plummeted and ABC pulled the plug.
Not surprisingly, the maturing Cameron's projects thinned, winnowed as much by his difficult reputation as by his own limits in terms of "moral" projects. He and Noble founded Camp Firefly, a Christian retreat for families with children suffering terminal illnesses, and they also started a family, adopting four children and having two of their own. Cameron and Noble starred together in the TV movie "Star Struck" (1994), with Cameron playing a small-town rube heading to Hollywood to win his childhood sweetheart, now a big-time star (Noble). He returned to the Disney fold the next year as the youthful genius at the center of its TV remake of "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes" (ABC, 1995), and to sitcoms that same year with "Kirk" (1995-96), an abortive outing on the fledgling WB network that showcased him as a young urban professional abruptly finding himself guardian to his underage siblings. He and Noble would do only one made-for-TV movie in the ensuing years, another Disney project, "You Lucky Dog" (1998), airing on the Disney Channel. But most of his screen work thereafter would be confined to Christian-targeted fare and "Growing Pains" nostalgia projects. "The Growing Pains Movie" (ABC, 2000) reunited the family ostensibly to help Kerns' character run for Congress against her former boss, but it also afforded Cameron the opportunity to apologize to his co-stars for the zeal of his missionary tendencies during the show's run.
As zeal went, however, Cameron would hit his niche that year, starring as journalist Buck Williams in the apocalyptic opus "Left Behind" (2000), with Noble in a supporting role. The movie franchise would follow the adventures of not-quite-faithful-enough Christians left on Earth after the Rapture (the ascent of the pure to heaven), based on the same-named books by Christian Reconstructionist Tim LaHaye, which had reflected the reinterpreted myth of right wing American Christians by trading on their worst/best-case scenario: the anti-Christ ushering in the End Times by becoming U.N. Secretary General and seeking to create a "one-world" government. Noble read the first book and became so enthused, she spurred Cameron to seek funding for a film adaptation. The Christian-run Cloud Ten Pictures eventually backed the picture. Universally panned in mainstream media, the movie cost $18 million to make and made only $4 million in initial release, though it would do considerably better with its core market in DVD release. Cameron would return in two sequels: "Left Behind: Tribulation Force" (2002) and "Left Behind: World at War" (2005), which would follow Buck Williams and others as they rally kindred spirits against the machinations of the anti-Christ. The "Left Behind" imprimatur dovetailed neatly with Cameron's partnership with Ray Comfort, a New Zealand-born evangelist in Bellflower, CA, which in 2002 manifested in a broadcast/video ministry overtly dedicated to proselytizing people on the errors of modernity to help save them from a distinctly medieval interpretation of Hell.
Comfort and Cameron, serving as wide-eyed second-banana, began "The Way of the Master" (2003- ). Dubbed a "Christian reality show" and carried in syndication and on the evangelical Trinity Broadcasting Network, it followed the two using "everyday" material examples to attempt to debunk science and atheism and prove God's existence. In one notorious case of the latter, Comfort made the case by showing how a banana, "the atheist's nightmare," was all-too-perfectly, thus divinely, designed to fit the hand and the mouth, notwithstanding man's decades of hybridized cultivation of the cash crop, nor God's presumptive forsaking of other, less aesthetically convenient fruits. The segment became a viral video and prompted such a fusillade of derision that Comfort later made a public retraction of the lesson. The show would go on to win awards from the National Religious Broadcasters Trade Association. Cameron returned briefly to the Seaver clan with "Growing Pains: Return of the Seavers" (2004), in which the Seaver kids' own families converged on the old homestead as the parents mulled what to do in their retirement.
In 2008, Cameron's Christian film work took a new tack with "Fireproof," in which he played a firefighter in a loveless marriage, which he and his wife (Erin Bethea) attempt to fix by taking a "Love Dare," doing affectionate things for each other, concordant with a Bible verse, for 40 days. When the couple finally reconciles, Noble dressed in Bethea's clothes off camera and kissed Cameron in a shadow-lit shot because Cameron considered kissing another woman - even on screen - cheating on his wife. Though made with the labor of over a thousand volunteers and just $500,000, the movie took in over $33 million on its initial release, largely buoyed by screenings at the many fundamentalist mega-churches proliferating throughout the U.S. Meanwhile, Cameron and Comfort also made news in fall 2009 by announcing a guerrilla evangelism stunt pegged to so-called "Darwin Day" on Nov. 22, 2009, the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species. Cameron and Comfort printed a so-called special edition of the public domain book to be distributed on college campuses, with a preface debunking its contents, including the contention, repeated by Cameron in a promotional video for the event, that atheists enabled by Darwin were attempting to curtail religious rights in America and that the Third Reich's Final Solution was a logical undertaking of adherents to the theory of evolution.
In 2010, Cameron made news when it was reported that old "Growing Pains" castmate Andrew Koeing - who played Mike Seaver's best friend Boner - had gone missing amidst reports that he was depressed. Cameron reached out to his former co-star through the media in an effort to help find him, but alas to no avail. Koeing was found 11 days later in the Canadian woods after having hung himself in a tree. Naturally, Cameron and the other "Growing Pains" cast expressed heartfelt condolences. After a few years of relative quiet, Cameron made a controversial appearance on "Piers Morgan Tonight" (CNN, 2011- ) in 2012, where he answered a question about whether or not homosexuality was a sin by saying "it's unnatural, detrimental and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization." His comments caused an immediate and serious backlash from the entertainment community, including former "Growing Pains" co-stars Alan Thicke and Tracy Gold. The overwhelming reaction from numerous celebrities forced Cameron to claim that he had been blindsided by Morgan, saying that his beliefs needed more than a quick sound bite to be fully understood while calling the cable host "disingenuous." He further clarified the events in an interview with The Daily Beast by saying that he was not a bigot and that he loved all people no matter what.
By Matthew Grimm
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CAST: (feature film)
Milestones close milestones
Cameron has been active as a spokesperson for the "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign and has appeared in several TV commercials to this end.
Cameron is a recipient of the People's Choice Awards, as Favorite Young Television Performer (1987 and 1988)
He is also the recipient for the Best Actor Award presented by the Family Television and Film Awards Organization
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