What the Hell Happened to Edward Furlong?
Edward Furlong’s first movie was a critically acclaimed box office smash. He was thirteen years old when he became famous overnight for playing a boy who was destined for greatness. At the time, it seemed like great things might have been in Furlong’s future as well. But almost immediately, Furlong went down a dark path of addiction, legal problems and charges of domestic abuse. This once promising young actor is now considered to be a cautionary tale.
What the hell happened?
In 1991, in his movie debut, Furlong played the teenager who was destined to save humanity from the machines in James Cameron’s sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
In the first movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger played a deadly cyborg sent from the future to kill Linda Hamilton, a waitress who would one day give birth to the savior of the human race. In the sequel, Robert Patrick played an updated model that has been sent back in time to kill the future leader, played by Furlong. This time Schwarzenegger played a terminator robot sent back to protect Furlong from a killing machine.
Furlong was only thirteen years old when he was spotted by a casting director while hanging out on the steps of the Pasadena Boys Club. According to Furlong:
They had trouble finding someone in young Hollywood at the time to play John Connor, and I guess they were looking for “normal” kids. This woman came up to me at the Club and asked me if I wanted to be in a movie. She didn’t tell me what kind of movie it was, so I went to the worst possible thing, so I said, “Sorry, I’m not into child porn.” She laughed and said it wasn’t child porn. I went in and kept reading lines, and eventually I got the part!
Furlong was living with his aunt and uncle when he got the news. His mother was going through a difficult time and decided to let her son live with her siblings. When Furlong was cast, Cameron called his uncle and asked “Do you guys know what you’re getting into?” It was a very valid question. It turns out, no one was prepared for what was to follow.
As soon as production began on Terminator 2, Furlong’s relatives got into a heated custody battle. Furlong’s mother fought her siblings to win back custody of her son. Both sides accused the other of not having Furlong’s interests at heart. According to T2 producer, B.J. Rack:
It was extremely upsetting to Edward. Here was this kid who had never been on a movie set, subjected to five months of the most high-profile experience one could imagine, then not knowing who his legal guardians were. But he was okay. I was amazed at his ability to put it behind him and perform.
During the movie’s five-month shooting schedule, Furlong’s voice changed. Most of his dialogue had to be redubbed during post production to hide the fact that Furlong had aged during filming. Cameron chose to use Furlong’s original dialogue for the scene in which John and the Terminator talk about why people cry because he thought Furlong’s young voice sounded more dramatic.
Three months after the release of Terminator 2, the custody battle between Furlong’s mother and her siblings was ended. Furlong remained in the custody of his aunt and uncle. However, the court gave control of Furlong’s estate to L.A. attorney Bruce Ross. Furlong’s aunt and uncle both quit full-time jobs to concentrate on managing their nephew’s career and found themselves strapped for cash. They began battling the lawyer for access to Furlong’s money. According to Furlong’s uncle Sean:
It gets incredibly expensive to keep things looking like Eddie was becoming a star, like having nicer furniture, taking people out to dinner. We did an unbelievable amount of business in the house. Our phone bills were huge because I had to speak to Japan. Eddie really wanted us to travel with him. In 1992 we traveled 34 weeks out of the year.
But Ross argued that Furlong’s aunt and uncle were taking advantage of their nephew’s success. He suggested that only one of them needed to manage the young actor’s career and the other could have continued working full-time. “Their standard of living increased so dramatically that for them to suggest now that it was a financial hardship is outrageously false.”
Following the success of Terminator 2, Furlong was flooded with opportunities. His next starring role was opposite Jeff Bridges in the drama, American Heart.
Bridges played an ex-con recently released from prison. Furlong portrayed his teenage son who is desperate for a father. But Bridges is struggling just to stay clean and sober. He’s reluctant to take on a paternal role while he is trying to put his own life back together.
American Heart was based on stories included in director Martin Bell’s 1984 documentary, Streetwise. In Streetwise, Bell followed nine desperate teens living in terrible conditions in Seattle. Several of the teens from the documentary influenced the writing of American Heart, but the central story was based on the relationship between a runaway named Dewayne and his father who was an ex-con.
Most critics praised American Heart – especially the performances by Bridges and Furlong. Here’s a clip in which Siskel and Ebert split on the movie:
American Heart received a very limited release topping out at 8 theaters. But it showed that Furlong was a legitimately talented actor able to hold his own on-screen with the likes of Bridges.