Drew Barrymore’s strained relationship with her parents explained

Drew Barrymore comes from a long line of respected actors, so her Hollywood career was practically written in the stars. The California native is the granddaughter of the Shakespearean actor John Barrymore and the daughter of 1950s film star John Drew Barrymore. Her mother Jaid Barrymore, also an actress, married John in 1971, four years prior to Drew’s birth. The two had an intense relationship, which resulted in divorce when Drew was nine years old.

“My mom chose a wild card for my dad,” Drew wrote in an Instagram tribute to her father. “He was a mad poet hedonist man child!”

Since she was born into an acting dynasty, it’s no surprise that baby Drew was thrown into acting at just 11 months old in a dog food commercial. However, most fans know her from her breakout role in the 1982 Steven Spielberg classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. While the former Charlie’s Angel went on to have a successful career — winning a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and numerous other accolades — it came at the cost of a peaceful childhood. Let’s take a look.

Drew's mom sent her to an institution at 13

Drew Barrymore’s childhood story reads like a gritty coming-of-age tale, as hinted in her 2016 book Wildflower. Her life was much darker than many fans even realize. Before she was even a teenager, the beloved and hilarious actress had already developed a cigarette smoking habit, a drinking problem, and a drug addiction.

According to a 2015 interview with The Guardian, the Never Been Kissed star was fearful that she was going to die at 25. Being a self-proclaimed “party girl” at the age of eight, Drew was hitting Studio 54 with her mother and getting caught up in alcohol and drugs. By age 12, she had already spent time in a rehabilitation center. A year later, her mother sent her to a mental institution for 18 months, where she was treated for addiction and self-harm. 

“When I was 13, that was probably the lowest,” she said. “Just knowing that I really was alone. And it felt… terrible. It was a really rebellious time.” Once Drew was released, she was legally emancipated from her parents, which turned out to be a great decision for the young actress.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse and mental health, please contact SAMHSA’s 24-hour National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Drew keeps her mom at a distance

Drew Barrymore opened up about her chaotic childhood in an interview with Norm Macdonald in the 2018 Netflix show Norm Macdonald Has a Show.

“It really is a recipe for disaster, but you know what’s exciting? I got my s**t over with at, like, 14. Like, midlife crisis, institutionalized, blacklisted, no family, like, got it done, and then got into the cycle of being my own parent, figuring it out,” she said. She also spoke about her Studio 54 nights with her mother, Jaid Barrymore.

“She was like, ‘Do you want to go to school and get bullied all day, or do you want to go to Studio 54?'” Drew recalled. “And I was like ‘Yes, absolutely!'”

During her second pregnancy in 2014 with daughter Frankie Barrymore Kopelman, whose father is Drew’s ex-husband Will Kopelman, Drew told Marie Claire that her relationship with her mother is “so complicated” and that she can’t have her in her life.

“I’ve always been empathetic toward my mom, and I was even more so when I had a kid and we had a really amazing conversation about it,” she said. “However, it hasn’t enabled me to lessen the distance. It’s the hardest subject in my life. I’ve never just been angry with her. I’ve always felt guilt and empathy and utter sensitivity. But we can’t really be in each other’s lives at this point.”

Drew still has a soft spot for her parents

Despite her complicated childhood, Drew Barrymore — who is a mother of two — has continued to show her parents love and appreciation for the lessons they accidentally taught her during their wild journey as famous parents. In a 2020 Father’s Day Instagram post, Drew wrote an unconventional, touching caption dedicated to her dad John Drew Barrymore.

“I think I would have liked to have a dad who didn’t look so out there. Or who stayed. Or was capable of anything really. But his wildness runs through me. His gifts are here. His demons to overcome are mine to break! I love him not for who I wanted him to be, but for who he was,” the post read.

She went on to add, “I look at all the photos of dads today, doing their dad job, sure, there is my tiny self that wished for him to fit in. But he never did. And I’m not sure I did either. And I’m not sure what anything is supposed to look like, or what it really is beyond the images?! But I do know this… both my parents have played a major role in who i am as a parent. And none of it looks perfect. But it functions with so much love. And togetherness. And availability.”

Drew’s uniquely tough childhood clearly gave the successful actress a great sense of perspective on life.

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