Brad Renfro was a child and teen actor who is now best known for his debut at 11 years old in the movie “The Client.” He had a promising career as an actor and seemed to have it all together, but he was constantly battling addiction and other personal problems, here I take a brief look at his short but brilliant career as an actor.
In The Client, Brad starred as young Mark Sway and made a name for himself as a child actor. He was the kind of kid that could play both tough-guy roles (in movies like Apt Pupil) or be vulnerable in more dramatic films such as Tom & Huck. However, his career would soon decline after he started to battle addiction problems throughout his teenage years.
Brad Renfro was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, on July 25th, 1982. When he was 12 years old, he began his career starring alongside Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones in the movie “The Client” (1994). Receiving rave reviews for his acting debut it seemed Brad had a promising acting career ahead of him.
In addition to his acting, Brad was unfortunately known for a drug addiction that he developed at the age of 14. He said in an interview with 60 Minutes (2006), “I started by smoking pot, and I just went from there.” His addiction cost him many friends and loved ones along the way. Even though it became difficult for him to get movie roles due to this problem, he continued on… until one day, everything changed.
After “The Client,” he went on to a lead role in “The Cure” in 1995 along with Joseph Mazzello, and the following year followed that up with “Tom And Huck” where he played Huck Finn. Brad followed that up with a role as Young Michael in “Sleepers.” The film was based on Lorenzo Carcaterra’s novel of the same name and starred Robert De Niro, Brad Pitt, Dustin Hoffman, and Kevin Bacon.
The roles kept coming for the talented young actor the next year with “Telling Lies in America” but the best was yet to come the following year with “Apt Pupil” with Ian McKellen playing a former Nazi war criminal living under a false identity. Many have hailed this as Brad’s finest work and include me in that group.
Other roles of note will include Larry Clark’s “Bully” (2001) and that same year four other titles, “Happy Campers,” “Tart,” “Ghost World” and “The Theory of the Leisure Class.” The next year he played Bobby in “Deuces Wild” which also featured Frankie Muniz and a pre “The Walking Dead” Norman Reedus. Brad had had many other roles right through to his final appearance in 2008s “The Informers.”
Brad Renfro tragically died of a heroin overdose on January 15, 2008, at the age of 25. His body was found in his Los Angeles condo, and the coroner ruled it an accidental death from “mixed drugs” with alcohol as a contributing factor. He had been struggling with drug addiction for some time before he passed away. The news came as quite a shock to those who knew him well because Brad Renfro seemed like such a happy-go-lucky person during his life, but behind closed doors, he struggled through depression and substance abuse. It’s always sad when someone dies so young, especially if they were talented and loved by many people – which is exactly what happened with Brad Renfro after his passing that left us wondering how those around him in the movie industry could have done something to help him.
The actor’s father had acknowledged that Brad struggled with alcoholism since childhood and battled addiction problems during adulthood on several occasions before succumbing to drugs for good following his release from rehab yet again. One person who knew Renfro well said: “Brad always told me… ‘I’ve got demons inside of me.’ He’d never shaken them.”
The sad death of this former child star who made such a huge impression on audiences seems like it could be a lesson for other child actors who have found sudden fame and riches.
The life of Brad Renfro is not one that can be forgotten so easily because he was such an important part of film history with his meteoric rise to fame.
The life of Brad Renfro is a reminder to all parents that even the most well-meaning and responsible child may not have enough self-control when it comes to substances and drugs. It’s an important lesson for everyone who works with children or teens in any capacity – we can never be too careful about their safety.