Brad Renfro, 25, was found dead in his Los Angeles home Tuesday morning. Although the circumstances of his death were not immediately known, the former child actor had been plagued for nearly a decade by drug abuse and run-ins with the law.
As of Tuesday evening, the Los Angeles Times was reporting that while the cause of Renfro’s death had yet to be determined, there was no suspicion of foul play. According to the newspaper, Los Angeles Police Lieutenant David Evans would not comment on rumors of a drug overdose. People reported Wednesday (January 16) that an autopsy will be conducted Thursday. However, a toxicology test determining whether drugs played a role in Renfro’s death won’t be made available for six to eight weeks, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Craig Harvey, a chief investigator for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, reportedly said Renfro had been drinking with friends on Monday night. At 9 a.m., the actor’s roommates called paramedics to his Los Angeles home after they found him unresponsive, according to People.com. He was pronounced dead at noon. The Associated Press reports that Renfro’s lawyer, Richard Kaplan, claimed he didn’t know if the actor’s death was connected to drugs or alcohol. “He was working hard on his sobriety,” Kaplan reportedly said. “He was doing well. He was a nice person.”
“Brad was a really gifted young man,” Renfro’s former attorney Blair Berk said, according to the Times. “It is a tragedy all the way around.” Berk added to People.com, “As critical and prescient as you become in this town, all I did was cry when I heard the news. I feel in some respects like we all failed.”
Renfro was best known for a skyrocketing career that began with a central role in the 1994 John Grisham legal thriller “The Client,” a part he landed when he was 10 years old. (Head here for MTV News’ 1994 interview with Renfro.) In the years that followed, the Tennessee-born teen would continue to choose gritty, adult-oriented work in films like the Kevin Bacon drama “Telling Lies in America,” the critically acclaimed AIDS tale “The Cure,” and the high-wattage “Sleepers” (in which he played a young Brad Pitt).
In 1995, he won the Hollywood Reporter’s YoungStar award, was nominated as one of People magazine’s “Top 30 Under 30,” and won a Young Artist award for his role in “The Cure.”
Although the only straightforward family flick Renfro made during his adolescent years was the modest Disney success “Tom and Huck,” the actor found himself struggling with teen typecasting as the new millennium dawned. For all intents and purposes, his last mainstream starring role was in “Apt Pupil,” director Bryan Singer’s underperforming Nazi tale best remembered for a lawsuit involving child extras and a shower scene.
Renfro’s troubles became public in 1998, when he was charged with possession of cocaine and marijuana but avoided jail time. In a bizarre incident just a few years later, he was charged with attempting to steal a yacht in Florida. Renfro’s reported drug habit led to his getting picked up in a December 2005 sting operation on Los Angeles’ skid row as the actor attempted to buy heroin from an undercover officer. After his arrest, he entered rehab. Just one month prior, Renfro had been charged with driving under the influence and driving with a suspended license.
In May 2006, Renfro served 10 days in jail in connection with the 2005 charges.
Career-wise, Renfro would never fully recover from his post-“Pupil” substance-abuse troubles. The actor spent the rest of his Hollywood days in forgotten films like “Deuces Wild” and “American Girl,” or occasional supporting work in the Scarlett Johansson cult classic “Ghost World” and the Adrien Brody military flick “The Jacket.” He took another dark turn with a lead role in “Kids” director Larry Clark’s 2001 flick, “Bully.” In the flick, which was based on a true story, Renfro’s character and his girlfriend plot a revenge murder.
One of Renfro’s final acting appearances was in a recent episode of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” He had recently been filming “The Informers,” co-starring Winona Ryder and based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name; how that film will address Renfro’s passing is currently uncertain.
“All of us at Senator Entertainment, the cast and crew of ’The Informers,’ and director Gregor Jordan are profoundly saddened by the news we received today,” Senator Entertainment President and “Informers” producer Marco Weber said in a statement, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “Brad was an exceptionally talented young actor, and our time spent with him was thoroughly enjoyable, and he became a true friend to us all. Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family and to all who knew him closely as the giving, warmhearted young man he was.”
Further details are expected to be revealed about Renfro’s untimely death. Sadly, what is certain is his inclusion on a list of young Hollywood deaths.
[This story was originally published at 8:49 p.m. ET on 01.15.08]