Once upon a time, Macaulay Culkin was the biggest child star in the world. Home Alone made him a household name and the envy of every ’90s kid – but it wasn’t to last. In fact, as soon as he was no longer cute, his career took something of a nosedive. So where’s adorable little Kevin McCallister now?
Although Home Alone was what catapulted Culkin to fame, it wasn’t actually his first movie. The young actor actually made his film debut in the 1988 drama Rocket Gibraltar, in fact. And the following year, he appeared in both See You in the Morning and John Candy’s hit comedy Uncle Buck.
But it’s definitely fair to say that Home Alone was what made Macaulay Culkin, well, Macaulay Culkin. It’s still one of the highest earning comedies of all time and a famous Christmas classic, after all. And that’s not even to mention that it got ten-year-old Culkin nominated for a Golden Globe Award.
So far, so good for the little boy, even if there were signs of trouble. His father Kit Culkin, who had been an actor himself, was pushing hard to make Macaulay an even bigger star, for one. But there were ominous words of warning to dad from those within the industry. “[Kit] wants to be very careful with Macaulay’s career,” said Fox chairman Joe Roth in 1991.
Before long, though, Macaulay had such a massive fanbase that movie producers even worried about killing off his character in the film My Girl. In fact, they went as far as calling in child psychologists to examine the movie to make sure that his death was treated in the correct way.
Like most actors, Culkin had flops as well as hits, but it didn’t really matter – he was huge. And it was around this time, just as he was reaching puberty and slowly losing his cuteness, that he embarked on a friendship that would end up defining a lot of his teenage life: he became pals with Michael Jackson.
However, not even having a global superstar on his side could save Culkin from the inevitable decline of his career. Sadly child actors have a limited shelf life, and by 1994 Culkin was reaching the end of his. He announced his retirement that year – albeit a retirement that came with millions upon millions of dollars.
Unfortunately, the combination of excessive money, pushy parents, famous friends and child stardom is a terrible one. Indeed, Culkin ended up taking his parents to court over custody and money issues. And while he left the court with $17 million in the bank, his relationship with his father was over. Furthermore, aged just 17, Culkin decided to quit school and get hitched to fellow teen Rachel Miner.
The marriage didn’t last: the pair separated just two years later and divorced by 2002. By now, the tabloids were reporting extensively on any new development with Culkin, including his changing looks. And it was clear to see that while he was no longer a movie star, he was certainly – and very reluctantly – a media one.
Indeed, as his mom, Patricia Brentrup, told People in 2001, “[Macaulay thought] that no one would know who he was when he was older. I said, ‘Face it, until the day you die you are always going to be the Home Alone kid.’” This was the root, it seemed, of Culkin’s troubles as he grew up. And it all came to a head in 2004, when he was arrested for drug possession.
In 2005, meanwhile, Culkin was on the front pages of the papers again, and not for a good reason. He’d been called upon to testify at Michael Jackson’s child molestation trial, and he firmly denied all claims that the pop star had ever acted inappropriately towards him. “We had this understanding of one another… I wasn’t friends with a lot of 35-year-old men who understood me,” he told the court.
Furthermore, public interest in Culkin was still at a high even after the Jackson trial was over. He was now back into acting again with roles in films like Sex and Breakfast and voice-over parts on Robot Chicken. Plus, he penned a semi-autobiographical novel, Junior, that disclosed aspects about his troubled relationship with his father.
Back in 2002, moreover, Culkin had met That ’70s Show actress Mila Kunis, and the two embarked on an eight-year relationship. They kept things as private as they could, but there was no doubt that what was happening between them was serious. And in 2009 the couple were spotted making a rare public appearance together at the funeral of Michael Jackson – with whom Culkin had never stopped being friends.
As the new decade dawned, then, rumors began to circulate about Culkin. He looked thin and gaunt, causing the tabloids to speculate that he had a drug problem. And in 2012 the National Enquirer alleged that Culkin was addicted to heroin, a claim he furiously rejected.
Admittedly, aside from his altered appearance, there was little evidence to suggest that Culkin’s life had particularly gone off the rails. No drug arrests were made, and the actor’s life continued seemingly as normal. He did, however, split up with Kunis in 2011, but the pair stayed on good terms. And then in 2013 the actor started a comedy rock band called The Pizza Underground.
With the success of this often downright odd musical endeavor, Culkin suddenly gained a new look, too: that of a grungy long-haired rocker hipster. And while it’s not a look that works for everyone, it certainly seemed to work for him.
Culkin also seemed to gain a new, cooler attitude towards his childhood fame and everything that came with it. And so when internet pranksters invented a death hoax about him in 2014, he responded brilliantly with a series of humorous posts on the Pizza Underground Twitter account.
Culkin was gradually turning into a sort of “meta-celebrity” – a guy who had given up fighting the fame machine and had decided to just have fun with it instead. And indeed this new Culkin definitely seemed to be having fun, especially when Home Alone’s 25th anniversary rolled around.
Inside of shying away from the role that had made him famous, Culkin went all out with it in a special 2015 skit. In the YouTube series DRYVRS he played an older, badder and somewhat more psychopathic version of Kevin McCallister.
Then in 2016 Culkin gave the only proper interview he’d done for ten years. Speaking to the Guardian, he talked about how his life was going and what he made of the drug addict allegations. “No, I was not pounding six grand of heroin every month or whatever,” he said.
Culkin didn’t actually deny the possibility that he might have been an addict at one point, but whatever had gone on there was in the past. And now he had different, if slightly directionless, plans for his future. For one thing, although he might do the odd commercial, he’d certainly had enough of the spotlight. “I don’t just turn my back, I actively don’t want it,” he said. Fair enough.