Jonathan Brandis: How life after teen stardom can take a wrong turn

Categories: Film and TV

Airwolfberlin
Jonathan Brandis hanged himself 10 years ago this week at Sixth and Detroit in Los Angeles, in the second-floor hallway of an apartment building south of Hollywood near a decent doughnut shop and a cat groomer. He was 27 years old. And he was my first big crush.

If you're picturing him in your head, you're imagining him young. Brandis began modeling at 2, scored a soap opera gig at 6, and by 10 was a TV regular with guest appearances on Alien Nation, Who's the Boss?, Blossom, L.A. Law, Full House, The Wonder Years and Murder, She Wrote. He was 16 when he made Ladybugs, 17 when he was cast as teen genius Lucas Wolenczak in Steven Spielberg's seaQuest 2032. You can't picture him any older than that, because when seaQuest was canceled in 1996, just before Brandis turned 20, the casting offers stopped.

"A time's coming when I'm going to play the father in a movie," Brandis insisted to a journalist that year while on a small publicity tour for a TV flick where he played a boy befriending a lion. He vowed that would be his last kiddie role.

Brandis had 4,000 reasons to believe that was true -- the year before, at the height of his fame, that was the number of fan letters he received each week. Three security guards had to escort him through the screaming girls who staked out the seaQuest set at Universal Studios in Orlando, and the editor of Tiger Beat put him on the cover of eight out of 12 issues. "I never perceived myself like this -- a teen magazine kid," Brandis said. "As an actor, you just hope to continue working."

Brandis tried everything to keep working. He dyed his hair black to play a drug addict, wore goofy glasses to play a murderer, and grew a beard for a Western. No one noticed. He went two years without a job. Then he finally won a small part in the Bruce Willis World War II film Hart's War, but got depressed when his part was cut even smaller, with less than two minutes of screen time. The year after Hart's War was released, he was dead.

Over the years, a friend and I have half-joked about painting an Elliott Smith–style memorial to Brandis on the block where he died -- maybe something with a soccer ball and a dolphin? -- but half-jokes are cruel to someone who ended his life as a pop culture punchline. Also, when we've half-joked about it around people, half of them have to be reminded who he even was.

See also: Remembering River Phoenix: New Book Revisits the Actor's Too-Short Life

How did a kid who graced a hundred Bop covers get so quickly forgotten? Because male child stars are always overlooked. While the culture frets over what really got between Brooke Shields and her Calvins, how much Mary-Kate and Ashley are eating, and all things Lohan, the mental struggles of actors like Brandis go ignored.

It's the odd gender paradox of young fame: Girls get more scrutiny, boys get more puff-piece press. Part of it is the hand-wringing moralization we force on kid actresses. But the simpler reason is economics: Teen female fans buy stuff. They squeal over posters, snatch up pencil boxes with their favorite stars, and sardine themselves outside movie premieres with a fervor that your average teen dude would find embarrassing. (Besides, teen guys tend to aspirationally age up and lust after underwear models.)

Take the teenybopper magazine that seems so culturally normal when filled with photos of high school guys in flannel shirts posing on trees and flip the genders. Can you imagine a cheesecake mag of underage girls on sale at 7-Eleven?


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35 comments
goslingsawagreen
goslingsawagreen

who wants to deal with male depression?  Culture hasnt changed at all!  Its just worse for guys since guys need to suck it up

Beth Ramsey Anderson
Beth Ramsey Anderson

How could they leave out The Neverending Story? Those were good times. It's sad that didn't continue for him.

Holly Janette Bartholomaei
Holly Janette Bartholomaei

Sarah Hartman-O'Neil i didn't know he died!:*( i always remembered you talking abt him in gate, though...

Cornhusker
Cornhusker

One more perfect example about how kids being on shows and in Hollywood seriously fucks them up big time. From the little rascals all the way up to this guy they all get fucked up. Enough already. It never works out ok.

Richard Sebastian
Richard Sebastian

Sad to know how the media has always been. He now doesn't have to suffer anymore. God bless!

Tomas Parkanyi
Tomas Parkanyi

SEAQUEST!!!! That poor dolphin must have been sad when he was told that LUCAS was gone..

Carlye Reed
Carlye Reed

Ladybugs was one of my favorites as a kid, and side kicks... I had quite the formidable crush

Conrad Luethy
Conrad Luethy

he was my first crush i liked him in ladybugs

April Cote Rodrigues
April Cote Rodrigues

I always read that he was taking a prescription acne medicine that can cause depression and suicidal thoughts. Maybe it wouldn't have happened otherwise. :(

Nathan Espinoza
Nathan Espinoza

weird, I just mentioned this dude the other day. Poor guy, he was a great actor

Scott R. Shriver
Scott R. Shriver

Wow. I remember his death. Never thought I'd see mention of it again in the media. Tyvm

Adam Aedro Drotar
Adam Aedro Drotar

Care if their happy? They make more for a made for t movie than I make in a year. Fuck if I care if they hang themselves.

Ean Seeb
Ean Seeb

So sad. We had a lot of good times together on and off the set of Ladybugs where we met. Teaching him and his co-stars how to smoke cigarettes in a field near their hotel, going to Benihana in Tamarac with Jonathan and the girls on "the team" and getting pictures taken for their wall of fame, going into the video store on Hampden where the old comedy club was, bringing all of the movies he was in up to the counter, only to run away when the clerk realized it was him, ripping up several of his headshots as he wrote inappropriate things to my little sister on an autograph, him pulling my pants down while I was serving empty cups of Pepsi to extras during a scene at a concession stand, watching him fall in love and make out with his co-star Vinessa Shaw. Good times, Jonathan! I'll never forget it.

Jill Mullican
Jill Mullican

I was so shocked when he committed suicide...I thought he was great, and when I stopped seeing him in movies, I wrongly assumed he'd just moved on to better things. It was my first glimpse into how depression can make a person lose sight of what is so obvious to others - things change, but you still have a future.

Sarah Fidler
Sarah Fidler

How sad! :( I didnt know that and we were just watching The Neverending Story 2 the other day. I was wondering what ever happened to him. Gotta love Hollywood...they will make you and/or break you. :(

Paul Rosales
Paul Rosales

He had asthma and was a dreamer! Pussies don't break 9 bricks that were lit on fire by the wizard from Conan the Barbarian #fryingdragonkarate

Ben Verbeck
Ben Verbeck

Barry Gabrewski was the biggest pussy.

Heather Nichols
Heather Nichols

I loved him! I also had friends that filmed with him in Ladybugs and they said he was a nice guy. Still hard to believe he's been gone 10 years.

Andy Sereda
Andy Sereda

Ladybugs was a horrible movie. So bad, that it was good. I still watch it when it comes on.

Taylor Healy
Taylor Healy

I was just watching "It" the other day...

Amy Rice
Amy Rice

He was my first crush! I would get that magazine Big Bopper when i was a preteen and plaster pictures of him, Christian Slater, and Johnny Depp all over my walls

Bev Harris
Bev Harris

he was also in the 2nd Neverending Story

Sandy Peterson
Sandy Peterson

Awww the only guy I ever put a picture of on my wall. Sigh.

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