Actress Tatum O'Neal experienced early success as a child star, only to struggle with addiction, a bitter divorce and family acrimony well into her adult years. With her screen debut opposite her real-life father, movie star Ryan O'Neal, the 10-year-old became the youngest actress ever to receive an Academy Award for her supporting role in Peter Bogdanovich's "Paper Moon" (1973). An undeniably talented screen presence, as a teen O'Neal continued to charm audiences with such crowd-pleasing comedies as "The Bad News Bears" (1976) and "Little Darlings" (1980). Within a few short years, however, a tumultuous private life addled by drugs, alcohol and sex began to derail her once promising career, as evidenced by B-movie offerings like the low-budget thriller "Certain Fury" (1985). A stormy marriage to notoriously hot-tempered tennis legend John McEnroe ended in divorce and heroin addiction - all which was covered extensively in O'Neal's 2004 tell-all memoir A Paper Life. The actress began a career rebound with a recurring role on the Emmy-winning drama "Rescue Me" (FX, 2004-2011) and as the star of the primetime soap "Wicked Wicked Games," (MyNetwork TV, 2006-07), until a 2008 arrest for drug possession revealed O'Neal's troubles were not completely behind her. Nonetheless, she attempted to move forward in her life, even attempting a reconciliation with her estranged father on the reality series "Ryan and Tatum: The O'Neals" (OWN, 2011). In a tale as old as Hollywood, O'Neal had traveled from glory to infamy to redemption both on and off screen.
Tatum O'Neal was born on Nov. 5, 1963, a third generation actress with entertainment professionals on both sides her family. At the time of her birth, her father Ryan was an up-and-coming actor and son of stage actress, Patricia Callaghan, and screenwriter, Charles "Blackie" O'Neal. O'Neal's mother was actress Joanna Moore, a Southern Belle who was often seen portraying the same in westerns and dramas on the big and small screens. Ryan and Joanna had an acrimonious split when O'Neal was three, and she and her two-year-old brother Griffin endured several chaotic years of their mother's heavy drinking, drug use and revolving door of young boyfriends, until a stint in rehab and a drunk driving arrest prompted O'Neal to gain custody of his children in 1971. At the time, the handsome actor was one of America's top stars and was coming off hit films "Love Story" (1970) and "What's Up Doc?" (1971). His beachside Malibu home was certainly an improvement over their mother's tumbledown ranch in the San Fernando Valley, but O'Neal's tumultuous early years had already taken a toll on the eight-year-old, who was desperately lonely and constantly looking for attention from a busy father with an unpredictable temper. The actress would later admit that she almost became jealous of her father's numerous girlfriends, as she wanted his attention all to herself.
It was unlikely that film director Peter Bogdanovich knew the details of O'Neal's rocky foundation, but after meeting her at a beach party he was convinced that she could carry the co-lead opposite her father in "Paper Moon." The film followed a scrappy, nine-year-old orphan and one of her floozy ma's ex-boyfriends (and possible father) on an interstate road trip during which she reveals con artist skills that surpass those of even her reluctant guardian. Despite her lack of acting experience, O'Neal was a natural and created an effective rootless depression-era waif by tapping into her own bruised innocence, bravery, and wise-beyond-her years wariness. The accomplishment wowed critics and audiences, and in 1973 she became the youngest recipient of a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award at the age of 10. Sadly, O'Neal would later reveal that neither parent attended the Oscars to watch their daughter's landmark moment and that her father became somewhat jealous of her success. Now nearly as well-known as her father, she became his frequent companion on the Hollywood party scene where she was unfazed by drinking, sex, and drugs and began to dabble in all three before she was a teen. She was just happy to be with him.
Naturally, studios came knocking for the young new talent, who was offered a then-record breaking payday of $350,000 and nine percent of the net profits for "The Bad News Bears." In the classic comedy about a ragtag group of little league losers helmed by a drunken coach (Walter Matthau), O'Neal was again tapped for her sassy independence in her role as the team's sole female and top player. She teamed with her father and Bogdanovich again that year for the loose DeMille biopic "Nickelodeon" (1976), which found little success, but in hindsight, proved to be an underrated, delightful valentine to the early days of filmmaking. The following year, the 14-year-old purchased a condo for her mother, whose own career had skidded to a stop amid her rampant drug and alcohol use. Young Tatum returned to the screen to play an Olympic hopeful equestrian (and another orphan) in "International Velvet" (1978), a sequel to the 1944 Elizabeth Taylor vehicle "National Velvet" and a moderately popular family film.
In 1980, O'Neal and Kristy McNichol co-starred as a pair of summer campers vying to be the first to lose their virginity in "Little Darlings" (1980), the first film which showed the cute "Paper Moon" kid was growing into a comely young lady. In a considerably less successful sex-themed film, she co-starred opposite Richard Burton in "Circle of Two" (1980) as the schoolgirl object of desire of a 60-year-old artist. By the time O'Neal played a streetwalker in the dreadful B-actioner "Certain Fury" (1985), many were left wondering what had happened to the actress who had showed such great promise at such an early age. Turns out, she had more important things on her mind in her never-ending quest for the love she was denied. She had met world champion tennis player and renowned bad sport John McEnroe at a party and the celebrated couple married in 1986. During their rocky relationship, they had three kids and O'Neal's drug use - which had been going strong for several years - went into free-fall when she became addicted to heroin. The couple separated in 1992, amidst ugly and violent accusations, and in a scenario that sadly echoed her own upbringing, O'Neal's drug problems meant her ex-husband eventually gained custody of her children.
When she resumed acting in 1992, O'Neal was widely panned for her stage debut in the off-Broadway play "A Terrible Beauty" and little-seen in the role of a playwright in the well-received indie "Little Noises" (1992). The following year, she acquitted herself as a police cadet who escapes prison after committing murder in the based-on-fact miniseries "Woman on the Run: The Lawrencia Bembenek Story" (NBC). O'Neal was seen in a small role as a drug-addicted artist in "Basquiat" (1996) and the following year, she reconciled with her own drug-addicted mother and was at her bedside Moore died from lung cancer. O'Neal re-emerged in 2003 in "The Scoundrel's Wife," where she played a widowed mother in a small village during World War II and earned some acting recognition on the festival circuit, though the film was not released in theaters. In October 2004, O'Neal published her tell-all memoir A Paper Life (Harper Entertainment), revealing all the tawdry details of her life including her long struggle with drugs and alcohol, her estrangement from her father, and her rocky marriage to McEnroe. Ryan denied her allegations of neglect and abuse, including those involving shoving his two children off to the side in favor of longtime love, Farrah Fawcett. Despite the tragic story, O'Neal's newfound sobriety coupled with her book publicity and the fact that she was still a knockout effectively kick-started her acting career again and she began to make appearances on episodes of "Sex and the City" (HBO, 1998-2004) and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (NBC, 2001- ).
In 2005, O'Neal debuted as the troubled, long-lost sister of Tommy Gavin on the gritty series "Rescue Me" (FX, 2004-2011), and over the next three seasons, her character continued to cause chaos with an impromptu marriage and bitter divorce with one of Gavin's firefighting co-workers. She made a less-than-glamorous reality TV appearance on "Dancing with the Stars" (ABC, 2005- ), where she botched the Rhumba, but as a consolation prize, she landed her first starring series role in "Wicked Wicked Games," (MyNetwork TV, 2006-07). The nighttime drama was adapted from a popular Venezuelan novella and centered on O'Neal as a scorned woman carrying out elaborate plans to destroy her former lover.
O'Neal returned to the big screen in 2007 with a refreshing break from her usual troublemaking persona, playing the love interest of a developmentally disabled man in the sentimental indie drama "Brothers" (2007). In 2008 O'Neal found herself the subject of breaking news when she was arrested in June for buying cocaine on the streets of New York - in the middle of the day, no less. O'Neal claimed that the arrest prevented her from going through with a relapse and maintained that she was still drug free, thanking the cops for saving her life. Strangely enough, much like Robert Downey, Jr. during his drug struggles before her, public sympathy seemed to be firmly on her side, unlike others in similar predicaments; most likely due to her tragic upbringing. In early July, O'Neal pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in connection with her June arrest in lower Manhattan. Criminal Court Judge Elisa Koenderman ordered the 44-year-old actress to spend two half-day sessions in a drug treatment program and pay a $95 surcharge.
Struggling to regain her personal and professional footing, O'Neal returned to screens in the independent drama "Saving Grace B. Jones" (2009) playing a woman recently released from an asylum, who disrupts her brother's (Michael Biehn) serene small-town life when she comes to stay with him. Indie films continued to provide the actress with opportunities, such as a supporting turn as the mother of aspiring rock star Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) in the rock-n-roll biopic "The Runaways" (2010). While the modestly-produced effort, which also featured rising star Kristin Stewart as rocker Joan Jett, received mostly positive critical press, less noteworthy was O'Neal's appearance opposite Tom Berenger as a woman framed for murder in the low-budget thriller "Last Will" (2010). Like so many other fading stars, the arena of reality television provided O'Neal with a means of returning to the public eye, although not always in the most flattering light. The following year, she began a very public reconciliation process with her long-estranged father on the reality series "Ryan and Tatum: The O'Neals" (OWN, 2011). Unfortunately, the first eight-episode season did not end on an entirely positive note and chances of a second season, much less a lasting reconciliation between father and daughter, seemed slim.