Macaulay Culkin

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Biography

The late 20th century's answer to the juggernaut child star success of Shirley Temple, Macaulay Culkin ruled Hollywood as a preteen, but had difficulty sustaining a second act. Acting almost since infancy, Culkin stood out as a precocious, charming child in "Rocket Gibraltar" (1988) and "Uncle Buck" (1989), where he first captured writer-director John Hughes's imagination. Hughes wrote the massively influential and successful "Home Alone" …
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Job Title

Actor

Born

August 26, 1980

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The late 20th century's answer to the juggernaut child star success of Shirley Temple, Macaulay Culkin ruled Hollywood as a preteen, but had difficulty sustaining a second act. Acting almost since infancy, Culkin stood out as a precocious, charming child in "Rocket Gibraltar" (1988) and "Uncle Buck" (1989), where he first captured writer-director John Hughes's imagination. Hughes wrote the massively influential and successful "Home Alone" (1990) for him, which crystallized Culkin as the star of the era. Its sequel (1992) as well as the bittersweet "My Girl" (1991) and dark, troubling "The Good Son" (1993) continued his golden track record, but Culkin's merciless stage father Kit pushed him into a string of lucrative but hollow projects like "The Pagemaster" (1994) and "Ri¢hie Ri¢h" (1994), effectively pushing the youngster out of the business. As his family imploded and adolescence loomed, Culkin bitterly retired. The public's fascination with the blond phenomenon never quite subsided, however, fueled in part by his close friendship with pop superstar Michael Jackson, and later, as he staged a semi-successful indie comeback with "Party Monster" (2003) and "Saved!" (2004). While the chances of him recapturing the level of power and success he once enjoyed as a child were slim, the adult Culkin seemed more interested in carving out a more modest career on his own terms.

Born Aug. 26, 1980 in New York City, Macaulay Carson Culkin was the son of mother, Patricia Brentrup, and father, Chris "Kit" Culkin, who was the brother of actress Bonnie Bedelia. His parents did not marry, but in total, the couple had seven children. In the wake of Macaulay's success, two of his younger brothers would become respected indie actors, Kieran and Rory. Kit had been an aspiring actor with some small credits, and like any good stage father, wanted his children to achieve what he had not. From the age of four, Culkin began acting, appearing on stage and in an uncredited appearance in the horror comedy "The Midnight Hour" (ABC, 1985). He landed an episode of "The Equalizer" (CBS, 1985-89), and then made a big impression as one of Burt Lancaster's grandchildren in the dramedy "Rocket Gibraltar" (1988). Although "See You in the Morning" (1989) made less of an impression, Culkin again stood out in a strong cast that included Jeff Bridges, Farrah Fawcett, Drew Barrymore and Linda Lavin, adding to his already impressive collection of critical praise.

Culkin's mixture of childish innocence and preternatural shrewdness were used to excellent effect in the John Hughes hit "Uncle Buck" (1989), where his rapid-fire interrogation of John Candy became one of the film's most memorable - and quoted - scenes. The rough-around-the-edges family comedy was a huge hit, and a great deal of the plaudits went to Culkin. The young actor filmed an uncredited small appearance as Tim Robbins's dead son in the horror-tinged mystery "Jacob's Ladder" (1990), but comedy was where Culkin's future lay. Inspired by a scene in "Uncle Buck" where Culkin spoke to Amy Madigan through a mail slot, John Hughes wrote a comedy about a young boy left "Home Alone" (1990).

The inimitable Culkin charm struck gold, and he surprised everyone by carrying the demanding film with an assured, confident performance. The movie followed eight-year-old Kevin McCallister when his family accidentally forgets him, boarding a Christmas flight to Paris. The child ends up left alone in the Chicago suburbs to battle two bumbling burglars in a film that blended slapstick comedy with a surprising amount of heart. While playing up every child's fantasy of wishing away their family, the film also highlighted the very importance of those troublesome parents and siblings. Although critics objected to the cartoonish violence Culkin dispensed to the would-be robbers (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), audiences lapped it up, making the movie one of the biggest box-office hits of all time and Culkin an icon whose mannerisms in the movie - the famous aftershave mirror-scream, for example - became a pop cultural touchstone. Besides dominating the multiplexes for months, in subsequent years the film would became required annual holiday viewing for families, with the original score by John Williams earning a place as a Christmas favorite.

The steamroller success of "Home Alone" and of Culkin in the starring role could not be overstated. The young actor had Hollywood at his feet, and earned him the well-deserved title of the most successful child star since Shirley Temple. For his performance in the film, Culkin won an American Comedy Award, a Young Artist Award, a Golden Globe nomination and the Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Emerging Actor. Suddenly, Culkin was everywhere. He starred on the animated show "WishKid" (NBC, 1991-92) and provided live-action intro segments as well, cueing up each week's tale of a boy and his magical baseball glove; notched a cameo in John Hughes's "Only the Lonely" (1991); and played second banana to Michael Jackson in the singer's highly anticipated "Black or White" music video, blasting George Wendt with a huge speaker and lip-synching a rap. Bonded by their experiences as enormously successful child stars with overbearing stage fathers, Culkin and Jackson became close friends. Tabloids began to speculate on the nature of their friendship, especially when Culkin began spending time at Neverland Ranch. (The ever-unpredictable Jackson would later name Culkin the godfather of his children, born in 1997, 1998 and 2002).

For a supporting role in the comedy/drama "My Girl" (1991), Culkin took home a huge paycheck. Although the film was an unusually smart and tender 1970s coming-of-age story of a young girl, Vada Sultenfuss (Anna Chlumsky), and featured a talented ensemble cast, Culkin was the focus of the film's marketing. This caused a minor controversy when parents who expected to take their children to Culkin's latest comic romp were surprised when his character - Vada's shy sidekick - died of an allergy to bee stings. Even so, critics praised the film on all counts, including Culkin's subtle performance, and the film became much beloved by its target generation. Culkin and Chlumsky even won an MTV Movie Award for "Best Kiss" - Culkin's first, onscreen.

The ubiquitous young movie star hosted an episode of "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) and returned to his iconic role in "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York" (1992). In this sequel, the McCallisters are en route to Florida for the holidays, and determined not to lose their son again. An airport mix-up leaves young Kevin in New York - with his father's credit cards and his old burglar nemeses in hot pursuit. While the movie was an enormous success, more critics complained about the thinly-stretched premise, and the amplified focus on the comical violence dished out by Kevin. The film's financial success assured Culkin's catbird seat in Hollywood for another round of profitable projects, but increasing reports about the controlling, iron-fisted managerial techniques used by his father Kit began to damage his career. In a town famous for ambition and ruthlessness, Kit became one of its most notorious stage parents, brokering Culkin's power to give his other children acting careers as well as making outrageous demands. He strong-armed the studios into giving Culkin the lead as a killer in the dark thriller "The Good Son" (1993), casting his daughter Quinn as the character's sibling, and paying his son a then-jaw-dropping $5 million.

The film could not have been more of a departure for Culkin's sunny image, and the writer, Ian McEwan, complained that the original script and concept had been heavily changed to accommodate Kit's demands. Even the original director was fired over clashes with the strong-willed father. While it performed moderately well financially, critics hated it and attacked the filmmakers for anchoring such a dark and violent story around a child star who would inevitably attract a youthful audience. For the first time, Culkin's performance had few supporters, with many objecting to his very adult dialogue that they argued was used for shock value. Kit made no bones about how completely he controlled Culkin, and when Michael Jackson was first accused of child molestation in 1993, Kit prevented his son from speaking out in the singer's defense. Culkin's titular appearance in the strange, stage-taped "The Nutcracker" (1993) seemed like an innocuous, classy project, but Kit's involvement tipped the scales into professional nightmare. Kit commanded that the narration by Kevin Kline be deleted from the film, as well as specific demands related to technical aspects of various scenes. When filmmakers refused to acquiesce, Kit pulled Culkin from all promotional duties, and the movie disappeared silently.

Culkin asked his father for a break or for more of a say in the film roles he took, but Kit pressed on relentlessly, and Culkin was forced into a string of movies that not only bombed with critics and audiences, but also reflected how thoroughly extinguished his own spark was. His performances in "Getting Even with Dad" (1994), "The Pagemaster" (1994) and "Ri¢hie Ri¢h" (1994) showed not only Culkin's ascent out of childhood and into adolescence, but also his weariness from the toll of being the meal ticket for his impossible-to-please father. Although Culkin benefited financially - he earned record-breaking paydays for these movies thanks to Kit's acumen - emotionally, the pace was devastating. Kit's reputation was well known across America, and few of Culkin's fans were surprised to hear that his parents were separating that year. The couple began a lengthy and expensive court battle over the custody of their seven children, many of whom were now working actors, with the right to the 14-year-old Culkin's sizable fortune the ultimate prize.

The cost of lawyers drained his mother Brentrup's resources, and the family found themselves in the strange position of living in poverty while Culkin himself had a fortune. The young actor decided to quit show business and took his parents to court to gain control of his money, estranging himself from his father. In 1997, Kit relinquished control to Brentrup, and Culkin paid off his mother's debt and moved out with two of his brothers. Culkin married his high school sweetheart, Rachel Miner, that same year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the young couple soon divorced in 2000. After briefly attempting college, Culkin decided to make a tentative return to acting that year, and landed a role in the London production of "Madame Melville." His father sent a telegram wishing him luck, but Culkin reportedly had no desire to reconcile.

In 2002, Culkin began dating actress Mila Kunis and plotting a more public comeback. He appeared on an episode of "Will & Grace" (NBC, 1998-2006) as Karen's baby-faced divorce attorney to good reviews, and then dove headfirst into a challenging, controversial role in the flashy indie "Party Monster"(2003) as a flamboyantly gay murderer. Based on the real-life story of killer club kid Michael Alig, the movie saw Culkin wearing outrageous outfits and embracing an onscreen lifestyle of hedonism and drug use - a far cry from the wholesome fare which had made his fortune. While Culkin earned positive notices for his brave turn, the film itself was little seen. He continued his cred-building momentum with a winning turn in the hit hypocrisy-of-religion comedy, "Saved!" (2004). Following a group of teenagers attending a devoutly Christian high school, the film poked fun at the ultra-religious-yet-self-righteous, like Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), while also revealing a reverence for true piety, and featured a top-notch cast, including Moore, Jena Malone, Eva Amurri, Culkin and Mary-Louise Parker. Culkin played Moore's wheelchair-bound brother, and his earnest performance earned him another round of good reviews. His momentum hit a speed bump, however, when he was arrested on Sept. 17, 2004 and briefly jailed in Oklahoma City for possession of marijuana and two controlled substances.

Regardless of his legal issues and still riding an upswing in the second wave of his career, Culkin reunited with his "Party Monster" co-star Seth Green to provide voices for a handful of episodes of the stop-motion cult hit "Robot Chicken" (Adult Swim, 2005- ), increasing his cache as a member of smart, young indie Hollywood. In 2005, he took the stand to defend longtime friend Michael Jackson from another round of molestation charges and remained steadfast in his support for the singer, even appearing in a Santa Barbara County courtroom to testify. The next year, Culkin publicly examined his past in a strange book called Junior, a collection of drawings and reflections on a variety of subjects, under the overarching theme of a powerful but abusive and distant father. Steadfast in his estrangement from his father, Culkin next appeared in the little-seen indie "Sex and Breakfast" (2007), and suffered the tragedy of his sister Dakota dying from being struck by a car in 2008. (A half-sister had died from an overdose in 2000 as well.) The following year, he paid his respects at the funeral for Michael Jackson seen 'round the world and appeared in a supporting role in the short-lived fantasy-tinged drama, "Kings" (NBC, 2009).

In 2010, Culkin found himself saluting another deceased friend and mentor, when he participated in the Oscar-night tribute to director John Hughes, who had been so pivotal to his initial success. Meanwhile, the actor's career again began to slow down, as he appeared more frequently in tabloid headlines than he did on screen. In early 2011, Culkin's long relationship with Mila Kunis came to an official end when it was reported that the two had split. Though Kunis' publicist claimed the two had remained friends, Culkin was allegedly devastated by the break up. The following year, rumors began to swirl that he had fallen prey to a serious drug addiction when photos of an emaciated Culkin emerged in an issue of The National Enquirer. The accompanying article claimed that he had become addicted to heroin and prescription painkillers, and had only six months to live. Culkin's representatives immediately lashed out at the report, stating that the accusations were "ridiculously fictitious" and that their client was in good health. Culkin subsequently made an appearance at the wedding of Natalie Portman in August 2012 and was later photographed leaving the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood in somewhat better physical shape.