Friday, January 15, 2016

"Bully" Actor Brad Renfro's Accidental Overdose in L.A. 2008

Brad Barron Renfro (July 25, 1982 – January 15, 2008) was an American actor and musician. He made his film debut at the age of eleven in the lead role of Joel Schumacher's The Client, going on to star in 21 feature films, several short films, and two television episodes. However, his career faded rapidly due to alcoholism and substance abuse. He died from an accidental heroin overdose at the age of 25.[1]

Early life and career

Renfro was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. He was the son of Angela Denise Olsen (née McCrory) 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, a church secretary.[5]

When he was ten, Renfro was discovered by Mali Finn, a casting director for Joel Schumacher. Cast by Finn as the lead in Schumacher's The Client, Renfro starred alongside Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones. 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, it became one of the top-grossing films of 1994. 

In 1995, he won Hollywood Reporter's "Young Star" award, and was nominated as one of People's "Top 30 Under 30." That year, he played Huckleberry "Huck" Finn in 1995's Tom and Huck with Jonathan Taylor Thomas.[6] He also won a second "Young Star" award, as well as the "Young Artist" award, for his performance in The Cure.[7]

In 1995, Renfro was cast in Sleepers, based on the novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra. The film was directed by Barry Levinson and co-starred Robert De Niro, Kevin Bacon, Dustin Hoffman, Ron Eldard and Brad Pitt.

In 1998, he starred opposite Ian McKellen in Apt Pupil, directed by Bryan Singer. The several films that followed gained little attention, the majority going straight to video.[8] He played Leon S. Kennedy in a live-action preview of Resident Evil 2. 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 an episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, and completed filming on the film The Informers, co-starring Mickey Rourke, Winona Ryder and Billy Bob Thornton.

Renfro was the cousin of Jesse Hasek, lead singer of the band 10 Years,[2] and featured in the first version of the music video for their song "Wasteland." He also featured in the video for N*E*R*D song Provider, playing the part of a petty drug dealer.

Renfro fathered one child: a son, Yamato Renfro,[9] who was born in 2003. His name and age were initially withheld in Renfro's obituary, which listed him as "Y. Renfro," out of his family's concerns for privacy. The existence of Yamato was not known to the general public until after his father's death.[10] He was raised solely in Japan by his mother.[11]

Renfro recorded an album under the name Frodad Band which performed all over L.A. and made appearances at Sundance Film Festival.

Substance abuse and criminal record

Mug shot of Renfro taken in 2000

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.[12] He avoided trial by agreeing to be screened randomly for drugs and evaluated for any substance abuse problems in his plea bargain.[13]

On August 28, 2000, Renfro and his friend Harold Bond tried to steal a 45-foot yacht from Fort Lauderdale harbor. They were arrested on the same night and Renfro was charged with grand theft and criminal mischief. In January 2001, Renfro was sentenced to probation of two years and ordered to pay repair costs of the vessel to its owner and investigative costs to Lauderdale Police Department.[13]

On January 14, 2002, Renfro violated his probation and was arrested on charges of public intoxication and driving without a valid license in Knoxville.[14] He was put into a three-month substance abuse treatment program as a result.[15]

On December 23, 2005, Renfro was arrested by LAPD officers during an undercover drug sweep of Skid Row and was charged with attempted possession of heroin. A photograph showing the actor in handcuffs made the front page of the Los Angeles Times. Renfro admitted to a detective that he was using heroin and methadone. In court, he pleaded guilty to the charges, and was sentenced to three years' probation.[16] In 2006, he spent 10 days in jail for convictions of driving while under the influence and attempted heroin possession.[17]

In June 2007, Renfro was found to have violated his probation by not enrolling 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 rehab program or to jail time.[18]


Renfro was found dead on January 15, 2008 in his Los Angeles apartment. He was 25 years old.[18] On February 8, 2008, the Los Angeles County Coroner's office ruled that Renfro's death was accidental, attributing it to acute heroin/morphine intoxication.[19] His body was returned to Tennessee, where he was buried on January 22, 2008 north of Knoxville, at Red House Cemetery in the small community of Blaine.[20]

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.[21] Local officials stated that she died of natural causes.[22]

Mark Foster of Foster the People was Renfro's roommate and wrote a song about his death called "Downtown."

In 2012, actor James Franco had the name "Brad" tattooed on his right shoulder in memory of Renfro, which was documented by the art magazine The Thing Quarterly.[23] Franco also produced a limited edition series of switchblades bearing the words "Renfro" and "Forever."[24]


Year Title Role Notes

1994 The Client Mark Sway 
1995 Tom and Huck Huckleberry Finn 

1995 The Cure Erik 

1996 Sleepers Young Michael Sullivan 
1997 Telling Lies in America Karchy Jonas 
1998 Apt Pupil Todd Bowden 
1999 2 Little, 2 Late Jimmy Walsh 
2000 Skipped Parts Dothan Talbot 
2001 The Theory of the Leisure Class Billy 
2001 Happy Campers Wichita 

2001 Bully Marty Puccio 

2001 Tart William Sellers 
2001 Ghost World Josh 
2002 American Girl Jay Grubb 
2002 Deuces Wild Bobby 
2003 The Job Troy Riverside 
2005 Hollywood Flies Jamie 
2005 Mummy an' the Armadillo Wyatte 
2005 Coat Pockets Kenny Short film 
2005 The Jacket The Stranger 
2006 Law and Order: Criminal Intent Duane Winslow Episode: "Watch" 
2006 10th and Wolf Vincent 
2008 Collector Justin Short film 
2008 The Informers Jack


Occasion Year Award Movie Movie year Notes

YoungStar Awards 1995 Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Drama Film The Cure 1995 Won

Young Artist Award 1995 Young Artist Award for Best Performance by a Young Actor Starring in a Motion Picture The Client 1994 Won

YoungStar Awards 1996 Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Comedy Film Tom and Huck 1995 Nominated

Young Artist Award 1996 Young Artist Award for Best Young Leading Actor in a Feature Film The Cure 1995 Won — Shared with Joseph Mazzello

YoungStar Awards 1997 Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Drama Film Sleepers 1996 Nominated

Tokyo International Film Festival 1998 Best Actor Award Apt Pupil 1998 Won

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films 1999 Saturn Award for Best Performance by a Younger Actor Apt Pupil 1998 Nominated

Sedona International Film Festival 2004 Director's Choice Award for Most Spirited Rising Performer — — Won


1. "Brad Renfro Warned Of Perils Of Drugs In 'Last' Interview." Access Hollywood. 13 Feb 2008. 
2. "Brad Renfro biography." Yahoo! Movies. 
3. "Brad Renfro." Film 
4. Details - Google Books. 2010-09-02. 
5. Weinraub, Bernard (July 12, 1994). "For 'Client,' a Survivor, Age 10." The New York Times. 
6. "Young star Brad Renfro dies at 25." Herald Sun. January 16, 2008. 
7. Carroll, Larry (January 16, 2008). "Brad Renfro Dead At 25 - MTV Movie News." MTV. 
8. Bergan, Ronald (January 17, 2008). "Obituary: Brad Renfro/" The Guardian (London). 
9. "Exclusive: Brad Renfro told cousin he wanted to marry his son's mother." US Magazine. 
10. "Obituaries - Brad Barron Renfro." Knoxville News Sentinel. January 20, 2008. 
11. "Brad Renfro spent several days with secret son before he died." Now magazine. January 24, 2008. 
12. "Renfro faces charges." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. June 6, 1998. 
13. "Actor must pay for yacht damages." Spartanburg Herald-Journal. January 6, 2001. 
14. "Actor Renfro back in jail; allegedly broke probation." The Miami Herald. February 6, 2002. 
15. "Actor Renfro told get clean and sober, or else." The Post and Courier. February 9, 2002. 
16. Winton, Richard (January 17, 2008). "Renfro autopsy planned for Thursday." Los Angeles Times
17.  "Actor Brad Renfro found dead in Los Angeles home." January 15, 2008. 
18. Breuer, Howard; Lehner, Marla (February 8, 2008). "Brad Renfro Dies at 25." 
19. Silverman, Stephen M.; Aradillas, Elaine (February 8, 2008). "Coroner: Brad Renfro Died of Heroin Overdose". 
20. [1][dead link] 
21. "Brad Renfro's grandmother, 76, dies." Knoxville News Sentinel. February 3, 2008. 
22. "Brad Renfro's grandmother dies." (Knoxville, TN). February 3, 2008. 
23. "Issue 14: James Franco." The Thing Quarterly. 2012. 
24. "James Franco: Limited Edition Switchblade." The Thing Quarterly. 2012.

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