Brad Renfro

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Brad Renfro
Brad Renfro in Sleepers.jpg
Renfro in the movie Sleepers
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. 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.

Early childhood[edit]

Renfro was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, on July 25, 1982. He was the son of Angela Denise Olsen (McCrory; 1961–2012)[1] and Mark Renfro, who was a factory worker.[2][3][4] He was raised from the age of five by his paternal grandmother, Joanne (Barron) Renfro (1931–2008), a church secretary,[5] after his parents divorced. He reportedly did not have a close relationship with his father.[6]

Renfro's cousin, Jesse Hasek, is the lead singer of the band 10 Years.[2][7]

Acting career[edit]

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.[6] 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."[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 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.[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 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.[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 also featured in the video for N*E*R*D song "Provider", playing the part of a petty drug dealer.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Renfro fathered one child, a son,[11] 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.[12] Renfro's son was raised in Japan by his mother.[13]

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

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

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

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.[24]

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'".[7]


Renfro was found dead on January 15, 2008, in his Los Angeles apartment. He was 25 years old.[24] 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.[25][26][27]

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

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

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.[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 the production of Tom and Huck, 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 mature and disturbing content.[6]


Renfro's roommate, Mark Foster of Foster the People, wrote a song about his death called "Downtown".[30]

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.[31] Franco also produced a limited-edition series of switchblades bearing the words "Brad Renfro" and "Forever."[32]


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
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
2001 Happy Campers Wichita
Tart William Sellers
Bully Marty Puccio
Ghost World Josh
The Theory of the Leisure Class Billy
2002 Deuces Wild Bobby
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
Hollywood Flies Jamie
2006 Law & Order: Criminal Intent Duane Winslow Episode: "Watch"
10th and Wolf Vincent
2008 The Informers Jack
Collector Justin Short film; final film role

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Work Results Ref.
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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Angela Denise Olsen. "Angela Olsen Obituary – Knoxville, Tennessee". Retrieved 2020-01-24.
  2. ^ a b c "Brad Renfro biography". Yahoo! Movies. Archived from the original on March 14, 2007.
  3. ^ "Brad Renfro". Film
  4. ^ Details – Google Books. 2010-09-02. Retrieved 2015-03-03.
  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. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  7. ^ a b Bledsoe, Wayne (January 23, 2008). "'No regrets' for Renfro". Retrieved February 7, 2020.
  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. ^ "Obituaries – Brad Barron Renfro". Knoxville News Sentinel. January 20, 2008.
  13. ^ "Brad Renfro spent several days with secret son before he died". Now magazine. January 24, 2008. Retrieved October 4, 2009.
  14. ^ "Renfro faces charges" (Fee required). Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. June 6, 1998. Retrieved December 2, 2010 – via NewsLibrary.
  15. ^ a b "Actor must pay for yacht damages". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. January 6, 2001. p. 2. Retrieved December 2, 2010.
  16. ^ "Brad Renfro Obituary". Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  17. ^ "Actor Renfro back in jail; allegedly broke probation" (Fee required). The Miami Herald. February 6, 2002. Retrieved December 2, 2010 – via NewsLibrary.
  18. ^ "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 25 January 2013. Retrieved December 2, 2010.
  19. ^ Silverman, Stephen M. (26 December 2005). "Actor Brad Renfro Busted in Police Sting". People. Meredith Corporation. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  20. ^ "US actor Brad Renfro dies aged 25". BBC News. BBC. 16 January 2008. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  21. ^ Winton, Richard (January 17, 2008). "Renfro autopsy planned for Thursday". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 6 February 2008. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  22. ^ "Ex-child star Renfro jailed in LA". BBC News. BBC. 9 March 2006. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  23. ^ "Actor Brad Renfro found dead in Los Angeles home". Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. January 15, 2008. Archived from the original on 19 September 2008. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  24. ^ a b Breuer, Howard; Lehner, Marla (February 8, 2008). "Brad Renfro Dies at 25". Retrieved February 8, 2008.
  25. ^ "Brad Renfro Warned Of Perils Of Drugs In 'Last' Interview". Access Hollywood. 13 Feb 2008. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  26. ^ Silverman, Stephen M.; Aradillas, Elaine (February 8, 2008). "Coroner: Brad Renfro Died of Heroin Overdose". Retrieved February 8, 2008.
  27. ^ "Actor Brad Renfro died from heroin overdose". Los Angeles Times. 2008-02-08. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-08-04.
  28. ^ "Brad Renfro's grandmother, 76, dies". Knoxville News Sentinel. February 3, 2008.
  29. ^ "Brad Renfro's grandmother dies". Knoxville, TN. February 3, 2008.
  30. ^ Redmond, Caroline (17 November 2017). "Brad Renfro: Inside the Actor's Shocking Death at 25 and Quick Rise to Fame". People. Meredith Corporation. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  31. ^ "Issue 14: James Franco". The Thing Quarterly. 2012. Archived from the original on 2013-12-03.
  32. ^ "James Franco: Limited Edition Switchblade". The Thing Quarterly. 2012. Archived from the original on 2013-12-03.

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