entertainment

Why the world cannot stop watching this 26-year-old star's life implode.

By ROSIE WATERLAND

This is Amanda Bynes.

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The photo on the left was taken in 2001, when Amanda was 13 and starring in Nickelodeon’s The Amanda Show.

The photo on the right was taken last week.

Dishevelled, dazed and having just spent the night in jail, Bynes was fronting court charged with drug possession. She was released on bail, went outside to a cab flagged down by her lawyer and left. Nobody came to meet her. Nobody came to help her get home. Her taxi sped off into the streets of New York City, with Bynes all by herself in the back.

Another child star, fallen from grace.

Amanda's first mugshot in 2010.
Amanda’s first mugshot in 2012.
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But how does it get to this point? Why do so many former famous kids end up alone, addicted, broke or in trouble?

Up until a couple of years ago, Bynes had a promising career. After getting her start in a couple of commercials, a Nickelodeon producer discovered her at a kids comedy class and launched her into stardom. Two years later, aged 11, she had her own top-rating sketch show. She was the cutesy-pie flavour of the moment.

Then her show got cancelled. She hit puberty – an awkward phase especially tough for a child star who’s loved for being sweet and innocent. Not quite old enough to be a sex-object, but too old to be keep playing the cute kid, Bynes had the lead in a couple of films that didn’t really take off.

As soon as she hit 21, she posed in her underwear on the cover of Maxim. Some small supporting roles followed, the last of which was in Easy A in 2010. She hasn’t worked since.

Amanda's mugshot from last week.
Amanda’s mugshot from last week.

Last year, Bynes hit the headlines for being arrested numerous times for driving under the influence. A mugshot of her was widely circulated in the media. She was spotted behaving increasingly erratically. More media attention followed. Her publicist, lawyer and manager all quit the same week Amanda left her family and went to live in New York on her own.

She began tweeting half-naked pictures of herself. She shaved her head. She was often spotted wandering aimlessly around the city, smoking from a pipe. She invited strangers into her apartment, who then sold their stories to magazines. Apparently she lives in squalor – almost no furniture, rubbish and drugs everywhere and all the windows painted black. She started abusing other celebrites on Twitter for being ‘ugly’. Obsessed with appearance, this childish insult seems to be the worst thing she thinks she can call a person. When a model tweeted her concern for Bynes, she was hit with this bizarre (and incredibly immature for a 26-year-old) response from the star:

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More media attention followed.

Mara in Mrs Doubtfire
Mara in Mrs Doubtfire
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However, amidst all the sensationalised tabloid stories about her current downward spiral, one article on Cracked.com has been getting the most attention. It’s a piece written by former child star Mara Wilson – famous for her roles in Mrs Doubtfire, Miracle on 34th Street and Matilda. In the article, titled 7 Reasons Child Stars Go Crazy (An Insider’s Perspective), Wilson explores why she thinks so many child stars have found themselves in the same place as Bynes. Now a writer living and working in New York City, Wilson makes a lot of sense. And the similarities between Wilson’s speculations and Bynes’ experiences are quite striking.

One of Wilson’s explanantions for why child stars go crazy is that they get used to love and attention, then lose it:

Adults know that infatuation is fleeting, but kids don’t understand this. A year in a kid’s life seems like an eternity, and they think anything happening now will happen forever. Years of adulation and money and things quickly become normal, and then, just as they get used to it all, they hit puberty – which is a serious job hazard when your job is being cute.

Amanda Bynes? Check. Probably explains her rush to become a sex object – the awkwaard phase in between cute and sexy is no-man’s land for those used to being lavished with attention.

Another reason Wilson cites is that child stars often need to rebel like the rest of us, but can’t:

Mara today.
Mara today.

Having to live up to your fan base is a little like having to deal with a million strict parents who don’t actually love you. They reward you for your cuteness and cleverness, but are quick to judge and punish. And they do not want you to grow up. How do you react? The way any sullen teenager does: You get resentful, and as soon as you have the freedom, you act out.

But when they get older, they have more freedom. They also have money and little to no experience making decisions for themselves, so their rebellions are going to be on a much larger scale.

Amanda Bynes? Check.

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Wilson also speculated that most child stars just don’t know what else to do or feel they can’t escape their past. Wilson worked crappy jobs to support herself through uni, and was constantly worried about being recognised, until she got over herself – something she thinks is important to have a better life:

…most former child stars are proud and sensitive and don’t have much of an education. It’s easier for them to hold onto what they did in their past and make money that way. There’s not much to do besides accept it for what it was and move on. Child stars who are best off as adults usually do one or two projects, then get the hell out of Hollywood, at least for the next few years. They go to Harvard or Yale… and learn to do something besides act.

Amanda Bynes? Well, she definitley fits the first half. She’s been switching recently between saying she’s retired and saying she’s going to get a nose job so she can become a rapper and singer. It’s difficult at this point to imagine her doing anything else, although not as difficult as it probably is for her to imagine herself doing anything else.

But why some stars and not others? Is it the parents? The kid? The work drying up? I think it’s probably a combination of all three.

Mara Wilson makes a very good point about the affect copious amounts of love and attention suddenly disappearing could have on a kid. Particularly one who doesn’t have supportive parents to help them through it. The entertainment industry is a harsh place to be – you can be a star one minute and looking for work the next. And when you can’t rely on the work always being there, you’d need to be a pretty well-rounded individual with an excellent support system to get through it. Maybe that’s the difference between the Lindsay Lohans and the Natalie Portmans.

Whatever Amanda’s reasons for behaving the way she has been recently, I’ll leave you with this to ponder: at every bizarre step along the way, she has once again been lavished with attention. Attention that, not even a couple of years ago, had pretty much dried up. When I was researching this piece, I checked out her twitter feed. Her followers increased by 1000 in 20 minutes. They’ve incresed by 1 million in just a few months. I lost count of the amount of media outlets contacting her asking for interviews (including a tweet from GQ – which no doubt has something to do with a raunchy photoshoot).

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She’s even started contacting websites and magazines asking them to use more flattering photos of her in their articles about her alleged drug use. She tweets them different photos where she thinks her legs look slimmer.

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It’s perplexing and difficult to understand. But whatever her alleged mental state/drug use/motivations, one thing is definitely clear: if it’s the attention she’s craving – whatever she’s doing, it’s working.

What a shame that at this point she doesn’t seem to care if it’s good or bad.

Take a look at our gallery of other child stars.

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