Drew Barrymore Is One of the Most Successful Actresses Known Today, But Her Tragic Past Almost Cost Her Everything

Drew Barrymore is such a pop-cultural staple that it feels like her winning persona today is at odds with a past that’s marked by tragedy and suffering. Despite being one of the most successful actors of her generation, Barrymore’s life was no cakewalk. Once a tragic child star and later a ’90s wild child Barrymore was given a seat at the adult table far too young and was left to navigate the highs and the bitter lows of fame alone. Now, she’s a successful mother of two children with a hit television show and producing and directing credits under her belt.

It’s almost hard to believe that Barrymore, who came from a Hollywood dynasty, was abandoned as a child by her hard-partying parents who suffered from addiction issues. It would be something that the star would also have to grapple with herself but at a much, much younger age. If you’d like to learn more about Barrymore’s fascinating and incredible journey to today, take a look back at her past with us to learn how those seminal experiences would go onto shape her.

Drew Barrymore Was a Superstar Before Turning 8-Years-Old. She Got It Honest.

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Drew Barrymore / Instagram

Following the success of E.T., Barrymore became a bona fide movie star at just seven years old. It came naturally to the young movie star as her family boasted a 400-year legacy in entertainment. Her mother, Ildiko Jaid Barrymore, had experience as an actor but become more like a manager for her daughter. Her father, John Drew Barrymore, was a veteran actor by the time his daughter was born with two decades of acting credits already behind him.

She Inherited More Than Just Talent.

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Drew Barrymore / Instagram

Her grandfather is perhaps the most famous Barrymore of them all. He starred in Paramount’s original Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. All of the aforementioned Barrymores had a rocky past with substance abuse. Today, Drew Barrymore has done her best to break the cycle her parents struggled to escape and give her children the stability her own childhood was missing, but it wasn’t an easy road.

She Did Whatever It Took to Get Parts, Even Telling Lies to Secure a Role

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Steven Spielberg and Drew Barrymore / Instagram

In Barrymore’s memoir, Wildflower, she describes acting professionally at a very young age. So young, in fact, that she can’t remember doing it. After all, she was only eleven months old when she appeared in her first commercial. Despite getting a sparse amount of work as a young child actor, she would not stumble onto her big break until about five years later when she was cast in E.T. She even lied to get the part!

She Auditioned for Poltergeist and Lied to Producers; It’s What Led to Her Big Break

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Steven Spielberg and Drew Barrymore / Instagram

In her memoir, Wildflower, Barrymore describes auditioning for another Steven Spielberg film, Poltergeist. She admitted to making up stories during her audition to catch the attention of casting directors. Her claims included that she was a chef and a drummer in a rock band. “They all sat around observing me and asking questions. I was a dry-witted, lying, thieving six-year-old,” she wrote of the experience. It’s history that Barrymore was not cast in the horror movie but Spielberg was so impressed with her that he did offer her a role in his next film, E.T.

“Pouring Liquor Over Her Ice Cream”

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Steven Spielberg and Drew Barrymore / Instagram

Barrymore was not waiting to age into adulthood before hitting the Hollywood party scene. Unbelievably, under the guidance of her mother, Barrymore was encouraged to mingle among actors decades her senior at various parties and functions. In her previous memoir, Little Girl Lost, she shocked readers by describing herself “pouring liquor over her ice cream” at the age of seven and getting drunk for the first time at Rob Lowe‘s birthday party when she was only nine. 

Her Mother Was the Great Enabler

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Ildiko Jaid Barrymore / Instagram

The Guardian reported that Barrymore’s mother first took her to Studio 54 when she was seven. The pair often went to clubs throughout Barrymore’s childhood. “It was like Disneyland for adults, only I got to be a part of it. We went out pretty regularly, sometimes once a week, other times up to five times,” she wrote in Little Girl Lost. “But nothing was ever enough for me.”

Things Only Escalated and By the Time She Was Eleven, She Was Really Losing Control

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
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By the time Barrymore was 11, things had only gotten worse. In Wildflower, she describes a scene when she was filming Babes in Toyland in Munich, Germany in which she got drunk and listened to heavy metal in her hotel room and met up with a rock band also staying there which led to a drunken and chaotic night. She recounts “stealing dozens of laundry bags full of clothing,” and throwing them into the river from the hotel’s balconies. The moment was so troubling that Barrymore actually started to feel guilt, causing her to rein it in for the remainder of the film’s shoot.

By the Age of 12, Barrymore Was Experimenting With Hard Drugs

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Drew Barrymore / Instagram

At an age when most girls are still playing with dolls and before most get their period, Barrymore was trying drugs. She had already been smoking cigarettes for a year when she got into weed at just ten and a half. It wasn’t a slow progression through harder and harder drugs. Barrymore said her “addict mind” could not get enough.

She Became a Cocaine Addict at Twelve

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Drew Barrymore / Instagram

“Eventually [weed] got boring, and my addict mind told me, ‘Well, if smoking pot is cute, it’ll also be cute to get the heavier stuff like cocaine,'” Barrymore explained to People in 1989. “It was gradual. What I did kept getting worse and worse, and I didn’t care what anybody else thought.”

The actor would go on to form an addiction to cocaine by the age of twelve.

Time for Rehab

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Norm Macdonald Has a Show / Netflix / YouTube

By the time she was 13, Barrymore had “undergone extensive drug rehabilitation treatment” twice, People reported. But today, the actor doesn’t touch the drug. On Netflix’s Norm Macdonald Has a Show, the Santa Clarita Diet star shared that “nothing would make [Barrymore] have a panic attack and seem like a bigger nightmare” than cocaine.

One Visit to Rehab Was Not Enough

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Drew Barrymore / Instagram

In a 1989 People cover story, things were looking up for Barrymore, who had just completed drug treatment. However, the actress had yet to hit rock bottom. That was looming in the near future. By the time a 1990 cover story was published, she’d broken her sobriety, and the tabloids were full of rumors about an attempted suicide.

A Life Unraveled

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Drew Barrymore / Instagram

Things started falling apart at the seams when Barrymore celebrated six months of sobriety by smoking a joint with a friend. Ultimately, that night ended in a car accident. She cracked her head against the window but managed to avoid serious injury. At the same time, her relationship with her mother deteriorated. Barrymore moved out as her depression got worse. Then, she was contacted by her estranged father, who she hadn’t seen in eight years. He called her begging for money. On top of all that drama, her friends were angry and disappointed with her which was the final straw.

A Reported ‘Attempted Suicide’

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Shutterstock

“I thought, ‘My dad hates me, I’m fat, ugly, I’ve got no money, I’m living on my own, nobody likes me, I can’t stand this,'” Barrymore explained at the time. “I grabbed a knife, and I thought, ‘Well, what shows the most pain?’ So I went in the living room, and I cut.” Barrymore’s incident was widely reported as an “attempted suicide,” but she insisted she “didn’t want to die.” 

Drew Barrymore Spent 18 Months in a Mental Institution

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Drew Barrymore / Instagram

Barrymore’s mother had her institutionalized following the knife incident. The then-13-year-old actor spent a long 18 months in the facility. Barrymore told The Guardian that her mother didn’t tell her she was being committed or she “would have run away.” But her mom wasn’t wrong, Barrymore explained, because it was finally the thing that helped the Never Been Kissed actor to change her life.

A Learning Experience

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
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“I realized, honestly, yeah, my mom locked me up in an institution,” she later told The Guardian. “Boo-hoo! But it did give an amazing discipline. It was like serious recruitment training and boot camp, and it was horrible and dark and very long-lived, a year and a half, but I needed it. I needed that whole insane discipline.” Barrymore also said, “My life was not normal. I was not a kid in school with normal circumstances. There was something very abnormal, and I needed some severe shift.”

Emancipation from Mom

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Drew Barrymore / Instagram

Barrymore always had a contentious relationship with her mom. She even admitted in Wildflower that her mother lost all “credibility” as a caretaker for taking her to Studio 54 instead of school. When she was 14, with her mental institution stay behind her, the actor really wanted to change her life. That meant she needed to alter her relationship with her mom. In her words, the pair had “driven [the] relationship to the ground.” She filed for emancipation

Her Mother Supported the Emancipation

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
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“On the day of my hearing, my mother was there in full support of my emancipation, which would mean me living on my own,” Drew Barrymore wrote in Wildflower. “I felt so sad, but too much had happened. The judge walked in and the day went on in a blur.”

In the interview with Norm Macdonald, Barrymore opened up about the experience and how becoming her own guardian at 14 forced her to grow up. “I got my s–t over with at, like, 14,” Barrymore told him. “Like, midlife crisis, institutionalized, blacklisted, no family. Got it done. And then got into the cycle of being my own parent.” At the time Wildflower came out, Vulture reported that Barrymore had rarely spoken to her mother since the emancipation, but that she still financially supported her mom.

Barrymore Felt ‘Washed Up’ After Years as a Child Actor

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Courtney Love and Drew Barrymore / Shutterstock

At the age of just 14, Barrymore felt like a has-been. She struggled to find work as an actor and admitted that casting directors would laugh at her when she showed up for auditions. “To have such a big career at such a young age, then nothing for years — people going, you’re an unemployable disaster — that’s a tough trip to have by the time you’re 14,” she wrote in Wildflower.

She Even Tried to Hold Down a ‘Normal’ Job

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Drew Barrymore / Instagram

With no one to really count on for support, Barrymore decided to get a ‘normal’ job to make ends meet. She dropped out of school and landed a gig at a local cafe but she wrote in Wildflower that she was not all that great at her job. Eventually, her boss told her to “go out and find ‘herself.'” It would take years for her to shake the washed-up child actor cliché.

Then, She Flashed David Letterman

YouTube

For Barrymore, it would take a mess-up on live television to turn things around and really start acting like an adult and taking control of her career. In Wildflower, she writes about her 1995 appearance on David Letterman‘s show when she flashed the talk show host in front of an audience of millions. At the time, she felt like it was a “fun thing to do for laughs,” but she regretted it after the fact.

“As I watched myself and my friends laughing from an objective perspective, I realized right then and there that this was the end of an era for me,” Barrymore explained. “And so I started my journey into no sex scenes in movies, modesty clauses in my contracts, and a total lack of nudity in any public forum from there on out.”

Choosing More Wholesome (But Still Fun) Roles and a Marriage

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Drew Barrymore / Instagram

With risqué movies like Poison Ivy behind her, Drew Barrymore began searching for roles that were more rewarding. As she was reshaping her career for the better, Barrymore embarked on a whirlwind romance that culminated in a marriage that lasted only nineteen days. She married British bar owner Jeremy Thomas after just six weeks of dating. They met in his Los Angeles bar, where she was a patron. “I realized my mistake on the day I married him,” Barrymore would later explain.

Just a Few Years Later and a Marriage to Tom Green

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Drew Barrymore and Tom Green / Shutterstock

You may have forgotten that Drew Barrymore starred in a weird little comedy called Freddy Got Fingered in the early aughts. You’d be forgiven for forgetting about it and Barrymore’s marriage to its other star, Tom Green. They met on the set of Charlie’s Angels and launched a relationship. It was a short-lived affair lasting only 163 days but it wasn’t without its share of drama. The couple’s home burned down, resulting in over $700,000 in damages. Shortly after, the pair decided to call it quits.

Drew Barrymore Firmly Finds Adulthood But It Was Not Without Its Own Challenges

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
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Following the success of Charlie’s Angels, Barrymore got really serious about the whole adulthood thing. In 2012, the actor tied the knot with art consultant Will Kopelman, and Barrymore said that she really strived to raise her children in an “ultra-traditional way” unlike her own unsteady childhood. Four months after her wedding to Kopelman, she gave birth to their first daughter, Olive. Her second baby girl, Frankie, came in 2014. Unfortunately, a wave of postpartum depression followed.

A Battle with Postpartum Depression

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler / Shutterstock

In 2015, Barrymore revealed she suffered from postpartum depression for about six months following the birth of Frankie. “I didn’t have postpartum the first time so I didn’t understand it because I was like, ‘I feel great,'” she said. “The second time, I was like, ‘Oh, whoa, I see what people talk about now. I understand.’ It’s a different type of overwhelming with the second. I really got under the cloud.”

Divorce Number Three

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Drew Barrymore and Will Kopelman / Shutterstock

Fans of Drew Barrymore really thought her third marriage to Will Kopelman was really going to be her “forever love.” They were married for nearly four years before they divorced in 2016. In an interview with Chelsea Handler, she explained that the divorce made her feel like “the biggest failure.”

The Separation Left Barrymore in a ‘Very Dark Place’

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Drew Barrymore and Chelsea Handler / Netflix / YouTube

Barrymore revealed that she sunk into a “very dark and fearful place” during her divorce. Santa Clarita Diet was the project that was borne from it, but it almost didn’t get made. “I was not looking for a job. I had actually stopped acting for several years because I wanted to raise my kids, but then a shift happened in my life and I was separating from their father and it was just a very difficult time,” Barrymore explained. “And then this script came along, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I don’t think it’s a good time.'” 

But, the opposite ended up happening and the star boarded the project for Netflix.

The Drew Barrymore Show and the Present

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
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Following Santa Clarita Diet, Barrymore executive produced the Charlie’s Angels reboot that premiered in 2019 and followed that project up with another EP credit on The Stand In which she also starred in. Then, in 2020, she flexed her producer muscles once more by launching The Drew Barrymore Show. The talk show has been a real success for the actor turned producer turned host.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Drew Barrymore Recalls ‘Nervous Breakdown’ After Having A Pregnancy Scare At 21 While On The Set Of ‘Scream’

Always a Star But With Some Side Hustels

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Drew Barrymore / Shutterstock

In addition to her success as a talk show host, Barrymore has also launched a cosmetics line, Flower Beauty in 2013. She is the creative force behind the brand and it’s gone international as part of its highly lucrative and proprietary Walmart distributorship. She once was a face for CoverGirl and Barrymore explained that her experience with them along with her extensive work in film and TV set her up for success in the cosmetic space.

“I think they are very similar because both are about storytelling and marketing,” she shared with The Hollywood Reporter. “I was a co-creative director at CoverGirl for seven years and it was a miracle of the stars aligning that when that contract was ending Carmen Bauza [Walmart senior vice president of health and wellness] called me…to create a beauty line for her store. I was able to tell Carmen the story of what Flower Beauty would be through images and through a film reel that I made for her. I feel something when I make movies… Both storytelling and heart really apply to beauty and film.”

Drew Barrymore Has Come So Far

drew barrymore is one of the most successful actresses known today, but her tragic past almost cost her everything
Drew Barrymore / Instagram

As you’ve seen, Drew Barrymore has lived one thrilling life filled with soaring highs and deep lows. Despite her rocky start in life, she has turned her struggles with mental health and substance abuse into a great success. While we still remember that little blonde girl from E.T., Barrymore has proven herself to be an excellent mother to her two daughters.

If you would like to learn more about Barrymore’s time in the psychiatric ward and her continued mental health journey, keep reading for her most recent comments on the topic.

Next Up: Drey Barrymore Talks About Her Time in a Psychiatric Ward at Just 13

Drew Barrymore‘s childhood was troubled to say the least. At the young age of 13, Barrymore was placed in a “full psychiatric ward” by her mother for 18 months.

In a new interview with Howard Stern, Barrymore revealed how she “used to laugh at those like Malibu 30 day places.”

drew barrymore on being admitted to psychiatric ward at 13
Image via Instagram

“Malibu was sort of the opposite of the experience I had. I was in a place for a year and a half called Van Nuys Psychiatric. And you couldn’t mess around in there and if you did, you would get thrown either in a padded room or get put in stretcher restraints, and tied up.”

Barrymore revealed how her mother, Jaid Barrymore, admitted her to the facility as she was a reckless child star with “too many resources.” 

She admits, “I was going to clubs and not going to school and stealing my mom’s car and, you know, I was out of control. So, you know, sometimes it was as humorous as that and sometimes I was just so angry that I would go off and then I’d get thrown in the thing.”

drew barrymore on being admitted to psychiatric ward at 13
Image via Instagram

RELATED: Drew Barrymore is “Extremely Honest” with Kids About the State of the World

The “thing” is a padded room, where she’d be forced to “cool out” for hours on end, while her hands were sometimes even tied behind her back.

While acknowledging it was a severe form of discpline — she also revealed how it was exactly what she needed.

“I asked myself like why is this happening. And I thought, maybe you need the craziest form of structure because everything was so accessible available and screwed up in your world that maybe it’s going to take something like this for you to kickstart the rest of your life,” she explained. “And that didn’t come for probably about six to eight months. The first six to eight months I was just so angry. I couldn’t see straight.”

drew barrymore on being admitted to psychiatric ward at 13
Image via Instagram

RELATED: Drew Barrymore Offers Thought-Provoking Motherhood Analogy Amidst Coronavirus Outbreak

Drew said with time, came understanding. “I think after, you know, 30, years of therapy, and a lot of soul searching and having kids myself, you know, I think she created a monster,” she reflected. And she didn’t know what to do with the monster.”

And thanks to three decades of therapy, Drew was able to “forgive her for making this choice.” The actress said, “She probably felt like she had nowhere to turn. And I’m sure she lived with a lot of guilt for years, about creating the monster but then I think she lived in a lot of pain that I also wouldn’t talk to her for a long time.”

With their relationship in a better place, it has taught Drew a lot about the type of mother she wants to be. She shared, “I said to my own daughter… something came up and I said I’m not your friend. I’ll never be your friend; I’m your mother. And I had a mother who was a friend, and we’re not going to do that.”

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