Remembering Brad Renfro

Bradrenfrodiesat25_lI hope what’s not lost in the speculation over Brad Renfro’s untimely death at 25 — especially given the likelihood that he’ll become just another cautionary tale of a child star who destroyed himself with drugs as he entered adulthood — is an acknowledgment that he was a really good actor with a solid body of work. Aside from his self-assured debut in 1994’s The Client and his first mature teen performance in Apt Pupil (1998), very few of those roles were for studio pictures; most were more challenging indie fare, like Telling Lies in America and Ghost World. In retrospect, it’s easy to draw a link between the troubled youths and delinquents he often played (Tom and Huck, Sleepers, Apt Pupil, Bully) and his own life, but his performances in these films indicated a young actor who, maybe only on-screen, displayed a wisdom, sensitivity, and maturity beyond his years. He recently wrapped filming on The Informers, a drama in which he acts alongside Winona Ryder, Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, and Mickey Rourke, and I’m sure we’ll see him hold his own alongside such established pros, just as he did opposite Susan Sarandon, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Bacon, and Ian McKellen.

I met Renfro when he was 11 years old and promoting The Client. He seemed to me then to be an unusually bright and self-possessed kid. He seemed fully aware of the opportunity that had been handed to him (by the casting agents who discovered him in Knoxville, Tenn.) and the career path it could lead to, but insisted that he was going to remain level-headed and himself, that folks at home would keep him humble and honest. Alas, that boast, made with youthful bravado, did not come to pass, but I didn’t see any reason at the time to doubt that he would go on to have a long and productive future in movies. I’m reluctant to draw any pat lessons here, except to say that we never really know the stars we think we know, and to regret the terrible waste of a life, as well as a career full of past accomplishment and future promise.


Comments (134 total) Add your comment
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  • Ceballos

    It’s ALWAYS a shame to lose anyone who is so young (he was actually the same age I am).
    Still, this is particularly sad to me because, although he certainly had his share of onscreen trouble, Renfro’s talent was very apparent whenever I watched him work. It’s too bad he couldn’t pull himself together and he’ll be missed.

  • Lynny

    The news stopped me in my tracks. Haven’t felt sad like this since River. RIP

  • Stephanie T.

    The Client was his best work. I weep for his family. I hate to say that like River before him, he made a grave decision. He took his acting ability, tossed it out the window, and CHOSE a path of self destruction. Perhaps Britney will get the message now. RIP Brad.

    • joepeiper

      Ya, all the talented ones die young, so of course, Britney will live to be 100!!!

  • Tim G.

    I’ll always remember Renfro as the little boy walking down the street with one shoe on from THE CURE. God that movie makes me bawl.

  • Vicki

    Sad…. he’s had problems for awhile though, since his early teens. Anyway, Bully is one of my favorite all time movies. I also remember having a crush on him in the Client back when I was 12.

  • shawn

    He was a rarity in his generation. He had such a depth as an actor that you couldn’t help but be pulled in whenever he appeared on screen. He’ll definitely be remembered as my generation’s River Phoenix: a brilliant young actor that died before he could show the world what he was truly capable of.
    RIP Brad.

  • Scott K

    Thanks for the nice words about Brad. What a talent, what a waste. We will miss you.

  • Kris

    Great right up. So sad. It is such a waste of talent and youth. This is a first for me, one of my childhood crushes dying of an overdose (most likely cause of death). Very, very sad.

  • Kris

    Oooopppppssss! That should be write up….Seriously, “to read makes our speaking English good.”

  • Anna

    One of the first stories I read about Brad was in Premiere magazine. He was filming Tom and Huck and, in one incident, had chased his tutor around the set with a saw. He was also already experimenting with drugs. I remember hoping that someone would try to intervene on his behalf because he seemed like a tragedy waiting to happen. I’m sad but I’m not surprised.

  • Snarf


  • Sad Eyes

    I have seen a couple of Brad Renfro’s films [“The Client” in the theater, “The Cure” on video] thankfully I missed “Tom & Huck”…his life should be a cautionary tale. However, we still have Lindsay Lohan & Britney Spears to go…

  • DalGal

    Very sad story. Seems like everyone around him failed him as I am sure he failed himself. What’s even worse is that this will NOT be a wake-up call for the others heading down this same path.

  • laura

    R.I.P Brad Renfro

  • Nose

    RIP Brad. I remember thinking what a great career he had ahead of him when I saw him in Apt Pupil. It’s too bad his life had to take this sad turn.

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