Former Child Star Corey Feldman Sued His Parents for Stealing His Earnings

The '80s icon emancipated himself at 15.

Former teen heartthrob Corey Feldman has claimed that, by the time he was 15, he had already endured neglect and abuse from his parents, molestation at the hands of an older actor, and a growing drug problem. He had also earned more than a million dollars through his acting career—which he would soon discover his parents had squandered. Read on for the sad details on how the Stand By Me star sued them for mismanaging his earnings and how he won his freedom from their guardianship by signing over his last dollar.

READ THIS NEXT: How Shirley Temple's Parents Lost the Millions She Made as a Child Star.

Feldman was pushed into acting at age 3.

The '80s star was born to Bob Feldman, co-writer of hits including "My Boyfriend's Back" and "I Want Candy" and a one-time Strawberry Alarm Clock bassist, and Sheila Feldman, a former cocktail waitress. While Feldman has said that his father was often absent, he also claimed that his mother pushed both him and his older sister Mindy into acting. Mindy earned a spot on a '70s revival of The Mickey Mouse Club and Feldman soon followed with his first job in a McDonald's commercial when he was just three years old. He went on to book more commercials, as well as guest roles on sitcoms including Mork & Mindy and Eight is Enough.

"I was basically a slave child," Feldman told People in 2016. "I started working at three years old, and it wasn't my choice."

He's accused his parents of abuse.

Corey Feldman in Stand by Me
Columbia Pictures

In his 2013 memoir Coreyography, Feldman claims that, to keep the jobs coming, Sheila bleached Feldman's hair with peroxide and monitored his weight, once degrading the five-year-old with insults and making him stare at a wall for an hour after he ate cookies. As far as his career went, he was soon outpacing his Mouseketeer sister, earning a role on the CBS series The Bad News Bears. While Feldman briefly rejoiced in his father turning his attention toward him to teach him to play baseball for the role, he wrote in his autobiography that his parents were enjoying the material returns of his success. "My dad traded in his old beater for a Mercedes, and my mother bought herself a Cadillac," he wrote. "We also hired a full-time maid."

Feldman also wrote that his treatment at home worsened as his family became dependent on his income, leading his mother to forbid him from riding his bike because he might get injured and jeopardize his latest role. When his grades fell behind as a result of being pulled out of full-time school for production, his father beat him with a belt, sometimes tied to a bedpost, the actor claims. Meanwhile, he says his mother administered "random beatings just to keep [him] in line" and continued to focus on Feldman's weight, forcing him to take diet pills as a teen and giving him free time only to go jogging.

Soon other adults were allegedly exploiting him.

Corey Feldman
Newsmakers/Getty Images

Following more success in films including Goonies, Gremlins, and Stand by Me, Feldman's father stepped in as his manager, just in time for his role in The Lost Boys. Feldman wrote that, during this time, his father hired him an assistant who who would give him drugs and sexually abuse him. He claims that the stress of this abuse, alongside all-night partying with older stars, contributed to the young star falling ill with mononucleosis. Regardless, his father reportedly kept him booked with various side jobs to bring in extra income.

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Michael Jackson convinced him to push back.

Michael Jackson in 1988
Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

Feldman says in his memoir that, amid his gloomy private life, one of the few highlights during this period was his friendship with Michael Jackson, who he first met on the set of The Goonies. "He was adamantly against drugs and alcohol, he was extremely strait-laced; I couldn't even swear around him," he wrote. "Being with Michael brought me back to my innocence."

The actor recounted telling the pop star that he had to report to the game show Hollywood Squares, another of his father's bookings, after a night spent hanging out at Jackson's compound. The "Thriller" singer explained what a career misstep this was—the game show was typically a place for has-beens, not up-and-coming teen actors— and soon had Feldman's father on the line to talk him out of it. Bob refused his advice, and Feldman appeared on the game show. But when he next wanted Feldman to audition for a minor PBS production instead of holding out for his next major motion picture License to Drive, Feldman told his dad that he loved him but didn't want him to be his manager. Bob told him that, if he wasn't his manager, he wasn't his father either and kicked him out of the one-bedroom apartment where Feldman had been sleeping on a pull-out bed.

In a 2019 interview with Rolling Stone (via CNN), Feldman said the documentary Leaving Neverland, about abuse allegations leveled at Jackson, prompted him to reexamine their relationship. "So was he grooming me and I just never ended up being his pick? Or was that just who he was?," the actor told the magazine. "That's the [expletive] thing. We'll never know."

Feldman sued for emancipation at age 15.

Corey Feldman in 2008

Exiled from his father's home, Feldman found himself devoid of safe adults to turn to and leaned on a man he described in his book as "the only person in my immediate circle who wasn't molesting me, but who was also old enough to drive a car." This was an older actor he calls "Tony Burnham," who Feldman claims was nonetheless sexually abusing his friend and co-star Corey Haim. While staying with Burnham, the young star took his parents to court to be emancipated and was able to find out how much money he had made through his performances. "By 1987, I had earned a little more than one million dollars," he wrote.

He had to hand over the rest of his earnings to his father.

Corey Feldman in 2020
Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock

Of that sum, just $40,000 was left in his account, and Feldman successfully argued before a judge that his parents had mismanaged his earnings. He never saw his money returned, however. To complete the emancipation process, California law required parents to sign off on the decision. Feldman's father held out, arguing that during the months he had managed his son's career, he had neglected his own business. "An appropriate payout, he suggested, would be approximately $40,000," Feldman wrote. The teen actor signed that check in exchange for his freedom. "I was 15 years old, and—just like that—completely on my own, not to mention flat broke. But at least I was finally free," he wrote.

Although it would be several years before Feldman achieved sobriety, his case set off what he has called the "Emancipation Proclamation in Hollywood," with stars including Drew Barrymore and Macaulay Culkin following suit to emancipate from their parents. Feldman has since spoken frequently about the abuse he says he suffered and that of his late friend Haim, who died in 2010. In his memoir, he says that he is often asked to comment on protecting young actors from a fate similar to theirs. "My only advice, honestly, is to get these kids out of Hollywood and let them lead normal lives," Feldman wrote.

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller is a pop culture writer living in New York. Read more
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