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"Sopranos" actor Robert Iler arrested

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Apr 02, 2002 | 7:38am EST

Robert Iler, who plays the son of Tony Soprano on the HBO series The Sopranos, was arrested early Wednesday with three other youths in New York and charged with two counts of second-degree robbery and one count of marijuana possession.

The 16-year-old actor was arrested after the police reportedly saw Iler and his friends robbing two teens of $40 in Manhattan's Upper East Side, The Associated Press said.

According to police records, Iler was released after posting $2,500 bail. He pleaded not guilty to the charges. Michael Cournede, 19, and Alban Selimaj, 16, pleaded innocent to two counts of second-degree robbery. The fourth suspect, 15, will face charges in Family Court because of his age.

Iler didn't threaten anyone or hear anyone ask for money, Steven Mintz, Iler's lawyer, said.

"He only learned what had happened much later when he was picked up," Mintz told AP.

In a statement following his arrest, Iler said he felt embarrassed about the incident and was sorry for the difficulty it caused his family and friends. He also maintained his innocence, claiming he would never rob anyone.

Iler's mother, Helen, told AP that this was the first time her son had been in trouble and that he is not like the troublemaker he plays in The Sopranos.

Iler could face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison if convicted on the top count of robbery. A hearing is set for Monday.

Despite Iler's arrest, HBO spokeswoman Tobe Becker said that the cable network is looking forward to Iler returning to The Sopranos when production resumes in the fall.

Iler began acting at 6 years old, when he appeared in a Pizza Hut commercial. He made his first film, The Tic Code, at 10 years old.

Iler's mother told reporters that it was the first and last time her son would ever get into trouble.

Stardom causes problems for some teens

Child actors have a reputation for screwing up their lives. Former child actors who have survived a Hollywood upbringing are often praised just for being normal.

What happens to child actors that leads them too often to a life of crime and drugs?

Paul Petersen, who played Jeff on The Donna Reed Show, said he thinks that child actors are more vulnerable because of their parents. They quickly learn that approval is a simple matter of liking what their parents like.

"Seeking approval is a key feature of being a child along with fearing abandonment and the fear of falling … and children are very quick to pick up the vibes," Petersen said in a statement on a Web site for the nonprofit organization A Minor Consideration.

Petersen started A Minor Consideration to help and support child actors.

Children often feel trapped and have a hard time explaining to their parents that they do not want to continue in show business, he said.

"The profile of this family is familiar," he said. "Undereducated, often a single-parent home with a crushing debt load, and parents willing to sacrifice their careers for their child."

Petersen calls this the old lottery thinking: "You give me a dollar, and I'll give you 56 cents."

If found guilty, Iler will join an unpopular but large club of troubled Hollywood teens.

In May, 18-year-old Brad Renfro was charged with underage drinking after police pulled him and a friend over after the driver reportedly failed to signal when changing lanes. Renfro was already on probation from an incident last year in which he and a friend tried to steal a 45-foot yacht in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., during the filming of the upcoming Bully. The duo however, failed to untie the boat's dockline and ended up causing $175,000 worth of damages to the vessel. Witnesses held the two until police arrived. In 1998, Renfro was arrested for drug possession. The actor has appeared in 12 films.

Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin also made headlines as a child. The third of seven kids, Culkin had a bitter ongoing feud with his father, Kit Culkin, who managed his career. At 14, he no longer wanted to act and told his family and representatives that he just wanted to go to school and make friends. He later told Barbara Walters on an interview with 20/20 that the four years he spent in Hollywood with his father were all work and no play and often felt discouraged by the situation. Culkin married Rachel Miner when he was 17, but the two announced their separation in early 2000.

Actress Drew Barrymore also is known for having led a wild and rebellious life. Made famous by her role in Steven Spielberg's E.T. The Extra Terrestrial at 7 years old, Barrymore was drinking and abusing drugs at an age when most girls are still playing with dolls. Coming from a Hollywood-bred family, Barrymore soon gained a reputation for being a promiscuous wild child. Though she has since overcome her addictions, she will always be remembered as "the little girl lost" who, at 14, was in drug rehab.

No television show spawned as many troubled child actors as did the sitcom Different Strokes, which ran on NBC from 1978 to 1986. Gary Coleman, Todd Bridges and Dana Plato, who starred on the series during its eight-year run, all took a delinquent turn for the worst.

Coleman was taken into custody in 1999 after police at a sobriety checkpoint reportedly noticed an expired license plate and discovered he was wanted on an outstanding warrant. He had reportedly failed to pay a $400 fine for disturbing the peace. That stemmed from a 1998 incident in which Coleman attacked a 205-pound female bus driver in a Los Angeles store. Coleman admitted punching the woman in the face. Coleman's sentence included a year's probation and anger-management sessions.

Bridges earned a bad reputation for numerous arrests from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. He had been arrested on drug and assault charges and, in 1989, was acquitted of attempted murder. He is now clean and sober.

Plato's rap sheet included arrests for forging Valium prescriptions and robbing a Las Vegas video store with a toy gun. She underwent drug rehabilitation but eventually died of an overdose in May 1999. Her death was later ruled a suicide because of the high level of drugs in her body and a history of suicidal tendencies. The day before her death, Plato had appeared on The Howard Stern Show, defending her sobriety.

Hollywood.com writer Erika Gimenes contributed to this story

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