Renfro in the movie Sleepers
Brad Barron Renfro
July 25, 1982
Knoxville, Tennessee, U.S.
|Died||January 15, 2008 (aged 25)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Acute heroin/morphine intoxication|
|Resting place||Red House Cemetery, Blaine, Tennessee|
Brad Barron Renfro (July 25, 1982 – January 15, 2008) was an American actor. Renfro made his film debut at the age of 11 with a starring role in The Client (1994), and went on to appear in 21 feature films.
Prior to being cast in The Client, Renfro had no acting background and was living with his grandmother in a trailer park. Director Joel Schumacher wanted to cast a "tough kid" who had the necessary life experience to understand the character he would portray. Renfro soon attracted a large fanbase as he continued to star in movies like Tom and Huck and Sleepers. Beginning in the late 1990s, Renfro had difficulties in his private life, including a series of arrests and stints in drug treatment. He died from an overdose of heroin and morphine at the age of 25.
Renfro was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, on July 25, 1982. He was the son of Angela Denise Olsen (McCrory; 1961–2012) and Mark Renfro, who was a factory worker. He was raised from the age of five by his paternal grandmother, Joanne (Barron) Renfro (1931–2008), a church secretary, after his parents divorced. He reportedly did not have a close relationship with his father.
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When he was 10 years of age, Renfro was discovered by Mali Finn, a casting director for Joel Schumacher. He had no prior acting experience or training at the time. Finn had contacted various agencies that worked with youth; he was looking to cast a "tough" kid and settled on Renfro after looking at five thousand such boys all over the United States. At the time, Renfro had been living in a trailer park outside Knoxville with his grandmother. "I wanted a kid who understood in the marrow of his psyche what it was like to grow up too soon," Schumacher later told The New York Times. Renfro was cast by Finn as the lead in Schumacher's The Client. His casting was announced in May 1993, and the movie was filmed in the summer of that year. Based on the bestselling John Grisham novel, The Client became one of the top-grossing films of 1994. In 1995, Renfro won The Hollywood Reporter's "Young Star" award, and was nominated as one of People magazine's "Top 30 Under 30."
In 1996, Renfro appeared in Sleepers, which was based on the novel of the same name by Lorenzo Carcaterra. The film was directed by Barry Levinson and co-starred Brad Pitt, who played the older version of Renfro's character.
In 1998, he starred in Apt Pupil, directed by Bryan Singer. The several films he starred in that followed gained little attention, with the majority going straight to video. He played Leon S. Kennedy in a live-action ad for Resident Evil 2, which aired in Japan. Renfro went on to act in other films, including 2001's Ghost World and Bully, 2002's Confessions of an American Girl, and 2005's The Jacket. He also appeared in the 2006 Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "Watch", and completed filming on the film The Informers.
Renfro appeared in the first version of the music video for the 10 Years song "Wasteland"; his cousin, Jesse Hasek, is the band's lead singer. He also featured in the video for N*E*R*D song "Provider", playing the part of a petty drug dealer.
Renfro fathered one child, a son, who was born in 2003. His name and age were initially withheld in Renfro's obituary out of his family's concerns for privacy. Renfro's son's existence was not known to the general public until after Renfro's death. Renfro's son was raised in Japan by his mother.
Substance abuse and criminal record
Renfro's abuse of alcohol and drugs began at an early age.
On June 3, 1998, Renfro, then 15, and his 19-year-old cousin were arrested and charged with drug possession. He was carrying two small bags of cocaine in a cigarette box and a bag of marijuana in his sock. He entered into a plea bargain in which he agreed to random drug tests.
On August 28, 2000, Renfro and a friend attempted to steal a yacht from the Fort Lauderdale harbor. Renfro was charged with grand theft and criminal mischief; in January 2001, he was sentenced to two years' probation and ordered to pay investigative costs and yacht repair costs. Renfro violated his probation in May 2001 when he was arrested for underage drinking. On January 14, 2002, Renfro violated his probation again and was arrested on charges of public intoxication and driving without a valid license in Knoxville. He was placed into a three-month substance abuse treatment program as a result.
On November 24, 2005, Renfro was charged with a misdemeanor count of driving under the influence and two counts of driving with a suspended license, leading to 10 days in jail and 18 months of alcohol education classes. He was arrested by LAPD officers on December 22, 2005, during an undercover drug sweep of Skid Row. Following that arrest, he was charged with attempted possession of heroin. A photograph showing him in handcuffs made the front page of the Los Angeles Times. Renfro admitted to a detective that he was using heroin and methadone. He pleaded guilty, was sentenced to three years' probation, and was fined $450. In May 2006, he spent 10 days in jail for driving while under the influence and attempted heroin possession.
In June 2007, Renfro was found to have violated his probation by failing to enroll in a long-term drug treatment program. A judge warned him that if he violated probation two more times, he could be sentenced to a live-in rehabilitation program or to jail.
Following Renfro's death in January 2008, his cousin, Jesse Hasek, stated that Renfro and his son had visited him several days earlier and that Renfro had made positive changes in his life. According to Hasek, "'He had hit rock bottom and had come way back up'".
Renfro was found dead on January 15, 2008, in his Los Angeles apartment. He was 25 years old. His body was returned to Tennessee, where he was buried on January 22, 2008, at Red House Cemetery in the small community of Blaine, Tennessee. On February 8, 2008, the Los Angeles County Coroner's office ruled his death accidental, attributing it to acute heroin/morphine intoxication.
Seventeen days after Renfro's death, his grandmother Joanne—who had accompanied him regularly during his early acting career—died at her home at the age of 76. Local officials said she died of natural causes.
Role of film industry in Renfro's struggles
In 2018, 10 years after Renfro's death, and again the following year, the website BuzzFeed devoted a long article to recounting his rise and descent, particularly during the 1990s while he was still a teenager. The article discussed whether the film industry's methods of protecting the welfare of child actors during production were adequate for situations involving at-risk child actors. BuzzFeed found no evidence that laws or contractual provisions had been violated on his films, but suggested that the system had nonetheless failed the actor by not ensuring that he was appropriately supervised when he was off the movie set.
Fernando Altschul, the first assistant director of Apt Pupil, told BuzzFeed that he saw a 14-year-old Renfro at an on-set party where alcohol was available. According to Altschul, Renfro was the only underage attendee.
During Renfro's early career, his worldliness and self-confidence caused many adults who came into contact with him to believe that he was some years older than his actual age. Gemma Jackson, production designer on Tom and Huck, remembered Renfro as being 15 or 16 years of age during filming when he was actually 13. Jackson recounted to BuzzFeed that during the production of Tom and Huck, Renfro had a girlfriend who was several years his senior. Renfro developed an ardent following among adolescent girls; Peter Horton, director of The Cure, recalled that the actor—who had just turned 12—received cards from local girls that contained sexually suggestive messages.
Renfro's apparent maturity was reflected in his onscreen portrayals. In his early roles, he was often sexualized and shown shirtless. In Apt Pupil, he was shown showering. He also performed scenes with mature and disturbing content.
In 2012, the art magazine The Thing Quarterly reported that actor James Franco had the name "Brad" tattooed on his right shoulder in memory of Renfro. Franco also produced a limited-edition series of switchblades bearing the words "Brad Renfro" and "Forever."
|1994||The Client||Mark Sway|
|Tom and Huck||Huckleberry Finn|
|1996||Sleepers||Young Michael Sullivan|
|1997||Telling Lies in America||Karchy "Chucky" Jonas|
|1998||Apt Pupil||Todd Bowden|
|The Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter||Young man||Video short|
|1999||2 Little, 2 Late||Jimmy Walsh|
|2000||Recess||(Voice)||Episode: "Germ Warface"|
|Herschel Hopper: New York Rabbit||Tanner|
|Skipped Parts||Dothan Talbot|
|Meter Man||Sal||Short film|
|The Theory of the Leisure Class||Billy|
|The Car Kid||Vernon||Short film|
|American Girl||Jay Grubb|
|2003||The Job||Troy Riverside|
|Citizen Tony||Thoren (voice)||Television film|
|2004||Mummy an' the Armadillo||Wyatte|
|10 Years: Wasteland, Version 1||Man||Video short|
|2005||The Jacket||The Stranger|
|Coat Pockets||Kenny||Short film|
|2006||Law & Order: Criminal Intent||Duane Winslow||Episode: "Watch"|
|10th and Wolf||Vincent|
|Collector||Justin||Short film; final film role|
Awards and nominations
|1995||YoungStar Awards||Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Drama Film||The Cure||Won|
|1995||Young Artist Awards||Young Artist Award for Best Performance by a Young Actor Starring in a Motion Picture||The Client||Won|
|1996||YoungStar Awards||Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Comedy Film||Tom and Huck||Nominated|
|1996||Young Artist Awards||Young Artist Award for Best Young Leading Actor in a Feature Film (shared with Joseph Mazzello)||The Cure||Nominated|
|1997||YoungStar Awards||Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Drama Film||Sleepers||Nominated|
|1998||Tokyo International Film Festival||Best Actor Award||Apt Pupil||Won|
|1999||Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films||Saturn Award for Best Performance by a Younger Actor||Apt Pupil||Nominated|
|2004||Sedona International Film Festival||Director's Choice Award for Most Spirited Rising Performer||—||Won|
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