Brad Renfro

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Brad Renfro
Brad Renfro in Sleepers.jpg
Renfro in Sleepers (1996)
Brad Barron Renfro

(1982-07-25)July 25, 1982
DiedJanuary 15, 2008(2008-01-15) (aged 25)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of deathAcute heroin/morphine intoxication
Resting placeRed House Cemetery, Blaine, Tennessee
Years active1993–2008

Brad Barron Renfro (July 25, 1982 – January 15, 2008) was an American actor. He made his film debut at the age of 11 with a starring role in The Client (1994). He went on to appear in 21 feature films and won several awards.

Prior to being cast in The Client, Renfro had no acting background and was living with his grandmother in a trailer park. Wanting to cast a "tough kid" who had the life experience to understand the character he would portray, director Joel Schumacher chose Renfro to play the role of Mark Sway. Renfro soon attracted a large fanbase as he continued to star in movies like The Cure, Tom and Huck, Sleepers, Apt Pupil, Bully and Ghost World.

Beginning in the late 1990s, Renfro had difficulties in his private life, including a series of arrests and stints in drug treatment. He died of acute heroin and morphine intoxication at the age of 25.

Early childhood[edit]

Renfro was born on July 25, 1982, in Knoxville, Tennessee, the son of Angela Denise Olsen (née McCrory)[1] and Mark Renfro, a factory worker.[2][3][4] He was raised from the age of five by his paternal grandmother, Joanne Renfro, a church secretary,[5] after his parents divorced. He reportedly did not have a close relationship with his father.[6]

Acting career[edit]

When he was 10 years of age, Renfro was discovered by Mali Finn, a casting director for Joel Schumacher. Renfro was recommended to Finn by a former D.A.R.E. officer of his, who was captivated by his charm and street smarts.[7] He had no prior acting experience or training at the time. Finn had contacted various agencies that worked with youth; she 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.[6]

Renfro was cast by Finn in the lead role of Mark Sway 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."[citation needed]

Renfro played Huckleberry Finn in 1995's Tom and Huck.[8] He also won a second "Young Star" award, as well as a "Young Artist" award, for his performance in The Cure.[9]

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 Renfro played the younger version of co-star Brad Pitt's character.

In 1997, he starred in Telling Lies in America, directed by Guy Ferland.

In 1998, he starred in Apt Pupil, directed by Bryan Singer, for which he won the Best Actor award at Tokyo International Film Festival and was also nominated for a Saturn Award. The several films he starred in that followed gained little attention, with the majority going straight to video.[10] 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, Bully, Happy Campers, Tart; 2002's 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.[citation needed]

Renfro appeared in the first version of the music video for the 10 Years song "Wasteland";[citation needed] his cousin, Jesse Hasek, is the band's lead singer.[2] He was also featured in the video for the N.E.R.D song "Provider", playing the part of a petty drug dealer.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Renfro had one child, a son born in 2003 in Japan, and raised there by his mother, a Japanese citizen.[11] Prior to Renfro's death, the public had been unaware he had a son, and mention of him did not appear in his obituary, though his son was eventually named in the obituary of Renfro's mother, Angela, who died in 2012.[12][13][14]

Substance abuse and criminal record[edit]

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.[15] He entered into a plea bargain in which he agreed to random drug tests.[16]

2000 mug shot

By the age of 18, Renfro had already been in drug rehabilitation more than once.[6]

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.[16] Renfro violated his probation in May 2001 when he was arrested for underage drinking.[17] 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.[18] He was placed into a three-month substance abuse treatment program as a result.[19]

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,[20] leading to 10 days in jail and 18 months of alcohol education classes.[21] 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,[22] and was fined $450.[23] In May 2006, he spent 10 days in jail for driving while under the influence and attempted heroin possession.[24]

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.[25]

Following Renfro's death in January 2008, 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."[26]


Renfro was found dead on January 15, 2008, in his Los Angeles apartment. He was 25 years old.[25] 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.[27][28]

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.[29] Local officials said she died of natural causes.[30]


Renfro was omitted from the "In Memoriam" tribute montage at the 80th Academy Awards in the year following his death.[31] Perceived by the press as a "snub", Renfro's omission from the Oscars received widespread media coverage.[32][33]

Renfro's roommate, Mark Foster of Foster the People,[34] wrote a song about his death called "Downtown". The song was included on a deluxe edition of the band's 2011 debut album Torches.[35]

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.[36] Franco also produced a limited-edition series of switchblades bearing the words "Brad Renfro" and "Forever."[37]

Role of film industry in Renfro's struggles[edit]

In 2018, ten years after Renfro's death, and again the following year, the website BuzzFeed devoted a long article to recounting his rise and descent. The article discussed whether the film industry adequately protects the welfare of at-risk child actors. BuzzFeed found no evidence that laws or contractual provisions had been violated on Renfro's films, but suggested that the industry had failed the actor by not ensuring that he was appropriately supervised when he was off the movie set.[6]

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.[6]

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 production, Renfro had a girlfriend who was several years his senior.[6] 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.[6]

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 sexual and violent content.[6]



Year Title Role Notes
1994 The Client Mark Sway
1995 The Cure Erik
Tom and Huck Huckleberry Finn
1996 Sleepers Young Michael Sullivan
1997 Telling Lies in America Karchy "Chucky" Jonas
1998 Apt Pupil Todd Bowden
1999 2 Little, 2 Late Jimmy Walsh
2000 Herschel Hopper: New York Rabbit Tanner
Skipped Parts Dothan Talbot
2001 Bully Marty Puccio Also associate producer
Ghost World Josh
Happy Campers Wichita
Tart William Sellers
The Theory of the Leisure Class Billy
2002 American Girl Jay Grubb
Deuces Wild Bobby
2003 Citizen Tony Thoren (voice) Television film
The Job Troy Riverside
2004 Mummy an' the Armadillo Wyatte
2005 Hollywood Flies Jamie
The Jacket The Stranger
2006 10th and Wolf Vincent
2008 The Informers Jack Posthumous release; final role; dedicated in memory


Year Title Role Notes
2000 Recess (Voice) Episode: "Germ Warfare"
2000 Teacher's Pet Miles (voice) Episode: “Movin' on Pup/Escaping Dog Trick”
2003 Slumber Party with Madonna and Dana Pullman Charles Polka Episode: Sleeper by the Dozen
2006 Law & Order: Criminal Intent Duane Winslow Episode: "Watch"

Music videos[edit]

Year Artist Title
1998 The Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter"
2002 N.E.R.D "Provider"
2005 10 Years "Wasteland'"

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Work Results Ref.
1995 Chicago Film Critics Association Most Promising Actor The Client Nominated
1995 YoungStar Awards Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Drama Film The Cure Won
1995 Young Artist Awards 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
2003 New York International Independent Film Festival Best Actor The Theory of the Leisure Class Won
2004 Sedona International Film Festival Director's Choice Award for Most Spirited Rising Performer Won
2004 Breckenridge Festival of Film Best Ensemble Cast Mummy an' the Armadillo Won
2008 Action On Film International Film Festival Best Actor Collector Won

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Angela Denise Olsen. "Angela Olsen Obituary – Knoxville, Tennessee". Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Brad Renfro biography". Yahoo! Movies. Archived from the original on March 14, 2007.
  3. ^ "Brad Renfro". Film
  4. ^ Details – Google Books. September 2, 2010. Retrieved March 3, 2015.
  5. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (July 12, 1994). "For 'Client,' a Survivor, Age 10". The New York Times. Retrieved December 10, 2007.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Vary, Adam (May 4, 2018). "How Hollywood Failed Brad Renfro". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved August 7, 2021.
  7. ^ Campbell, Chuck (January 13, 2019). "Did Hollywood kill Knoxville's Brad Renfro, or was he doomed from the start?". Knoxville News Sentinel. Retrieved November 25, 2021.
  8. ^ "Young star Brad Renfro dies at 25". Herald Sun. January 16, 2008. Retrieved May 18, 2008.
  9. ^ Carroll, Larry (January 16, 2008). "Brad Renfro Dead At 25 – MTV Movie News". MTV. Retrieved February 18, 2012.
  10. ^ Bergan, Ronald (January 17, 2008). "Obituary: Brad Renfro". The Guardian. London.
  11. ^ "Exclusive: Brad Renfro told cousin he wanted to marry his son's mother". US Magazine. Archived from the original on January 28, 2008.
  12. ^ "Brad Renfro spent several days with secret son before he died". Now magazine. January 24, 2008. Archived from the original on December 17, 2008. Retrieved October 4, 2009.
  13. ^ "Obituaries – Brad Barron Renfro". Knoxville News Sentinel. January 20, 2008.
  14. ^ "Angela Olsen Obituary - Knoxville, Tennessee". March 6, 2012. Retrieved October 19, 2020.
  15. ^ "Renfro faces charges" (Fee required). Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. June 6, 1998. Retrieved December 2, 2010 – via NewsLibrary.
  16. ^ a b "Actor must pay for yacht damages". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. January 6, 2001. p. 2. Retrieved December 2, 2010.
  17. ^ "Brad Renfro Obituary". Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  18. ^ "Actor Renfro back in jail; allegedly broke probation" (Fee required). The Miami Herald. February 6, 2002. Retrieved December 2, 2010 – via NewsLibrary.
  19. ^ "Actor Renfro told get clean and sober, or else" (Fee required). The Post and Courier. February 9, 2002. p. 2. Archived from the original on January 25, 2013. Retrieved December 2, 2010.
  20. ^ Silverman, Stephen M. (December 26, 2005). "Actor Brad Renfro Busted in Police Sting". People. Meredith Corporation. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  21. ^ "US actor Brad Renfro dies aged 25". BBC News. BBC. January 16, 2008. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  22. ^ Winton, Richard (January 17, 2008). "Renfro autopsy planned for Thursday". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on February 6, 2008. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  23. ^ "Ex-child star Renfro jailed in LA". BBC News. BBC. March 9, 2006. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  24. ^ "Actor Brad Renfro found dead in Los Angeles home". Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. January 15, 2008. Archived from the original on September 19, 2008. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  25. ^ a b Breuer, Howard; Lehner, Marla (February 8, 2008). "Brad Renfro Dies at 25". Retrieved February 8, 2008.
  26. ^ Bledsoe, Wayne (January 23, 2008). "'No regrets' for Renfro". Retrieved February 7, 2020.
  27. ^ "Brad Renfro Warned Of Perils Of Drugs In 'Last' Interview". Access Hollywood. February 13, 2008. Retrieved December 30, 2015.
  28. ^ "Actor Brad Renfro died from heroin overdose". Los Angeles Times. February 8, 2008. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved August 4, 2017.
  29. ^ "Brad Renfro's grandmother, 76, dies". Knoxville News Sentinel. February 3, 2008.
  30. ^ "Brad Renfro's grandmother dies". Knoxville, TN. February 3, 2008.
  31. ^ "Brad Renfro excluded from Oscar memorial". Today Show. February 25, 2008. Retrieved November 23, 2021.
  32. ^ Adler, Shawn (February 25, 2008). "Brad Renfro: Why Was He Left Out of Oscars "In Memorial" Montage? The Academy Responds". MTV. Retrieved November 23, 2021.
  33. ^ Abramowitz, Rachel (February 27, 2008). "The deadly path of Brad Renfro". The Seattle Times. Retrieved November 24, 2021.
  34. ^ Redmond, Caroline (November 17, 2017). "Brad Renfro: Inside the Actor's Shocking Death at 25 and Quick Rise to Fame". People. Meredith Corporation. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  35. ^ "10 Years Later, Mark Foster Reflects on the Success of Foster The People's Torches—"I Don't Think Anything Can Prepare Somebody for Something Like That"". American Songwriter. November 16, 2021.
  36. ^ "Issue 14: James Franco". The Thing Quarterly. 2012. Archived from the original on December 3, 2013.
  37. ^ "James Franco: Limited Edition Switchblade". The Thing Quarterly. 2012. Archived from the original on December 3, 2013.

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