20 Things You Might Not Have Realised About Drew Barrymore
She’s probably still best known for her role in the classic 80s film ET the Extra-Terrestrial, but Drew Barrymore is one of the most talented actresses of her generation.
Born Drew Blythe Barrymore in 1975, the actor had a troubled childhood and a long and controversial path toward shedding her ‘child star’ image, before ending up as one of Hollywood’s most successful movers and shakers.
In fact, after the cancellation of Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet last year, it’s well worth looking back at the 45-year-old’s trials and tribulations away from the silver screen – and considering how the industry and audiences treat other child stars, like Millie Bobby Brown and Sophia Lillis, despite the warning signs from Barrymore’s early days.
20. She comes from acting royalty
There was never much question that Drew Barrymore would become an actor. After all, it was the family business. Her father, John Drew Barrymore, was a movie star in the 50s, taking the lead in films like High Loneliness and Never Love a Stranger.
Her father, however, was far from the only actor in the family: her grandfather was one of the stalwarts of American drama, having performed Hamlet on stage and received acclaim (from Brooklyn Life in 1922) as the “greatest living American tragedian.”
John Barrymore Sr would later star as the lead of 1924’s Beau Brummel and marry Dolores Costello, another famous silent movie actor.
John Barrymore Sr was himself the son of Maurice Barrymore, himself an actor and playwright born in 1849. Through this extensive family history, Drew Barrymore is also related to Ethel Barrymore, whose career spanned six decades.
Perhaps most recognisably, however, Barrymore is the great niece of actor Lionel Barrymore, best known for portraying Mr Potter in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. No pressure, then!
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19. Steven Spielberg is her godfather
It’s just not just blood relatives that Drew Barrymore can count among the Hollywood elite. In fact, her godfather is none other than one of the most famous directors in history: Steven Spielberg.
Spielberg was a close friend of Barrymore’s parents and was instrumental in landing the child actor her breakthrough role. Far be it from us to criticise Barrymore’s acting prowess, but you’d hardly argue that knowing Spielberg didn’t help her career.
And yet, remarkably, it isn’t just Spielberg bringing the star-power to Barrymore’s godparent line-up. One of Barrymore’s godmothers is Sophia Loren, the Academy Award-winning star of 1961’s Two Women (and, improbably, the aunt of Alessandro Mussolini).
Barrymore spent many of her childhood summers on Loren’s ranch outside LA, where she played with Loren’s sons. Nowadays, however, the two aren’t particularly close.
The child star was reportedly ferried to and from the ranch by another of her godparents, Anna Strasberg, the wife of famed acting coach Lee Strasberg. That’s some blue Hollywood blood right there!
18. She was delivered by Paul M Fleiss
Drew Barrymore didn’t have to wait until ET the Extra Terrestrial to start networking. In fact, she made her first celebrity connection the moment she was born: the controversial doctor Paul M Fleiss.
In the years before the revolving door between medical school and daytime television sofas began to spin, Paul M Fleiss was one of the first ‘celebrity’ doctors.
A pediatrician by trade, Fleiss was as well known for his list of celebrity clients as he was for his controversial medical opinions, which included a lukewarm view of childhood vaccinations and a scepticism as to whether HIV causes AIDS.
Fleiss is perhaps most notable for having pleaded guilty in 1994 to conspiracy and bank fraud. This was connected to the fact that his daughter, Heidi Fleiss, was working as a madam and laundering money through his medical practice.
Naturally, none of this should reflect on Drew Barrymore, but suggests that her parents and adults around her were often in precarious moral positions of their own.
17. She got her start in dog food and cookie dough commercials
Despite her Hollywood lineage, it would be a full five years before Drew Barrymore appeared in a feature film (1980’s Altered States). However, her acting career began with commercials several years earlier.
In fact, Barrymore got her first commercial, an ad for dog food, at the desperately young age of eleven months. Producers were convinced the tiny Barrymore was the right choice after a dog nipped her at the audition – and she simply laughed. Few children would display that sort of tenacity and commitment to characters having not even reached two years of age! Perhaps acting really does run in the family.
Barrymore then notably starred in a 1979 advertisement for Pillsbury Cookie Dough at only four years old. Look at that pile of fresh chocolate chip cookies! Compared to many advertisement roles for children, which tend to see them stuck in a chair or giggling at the camera, this is actually quite a significant appearance for a young Drew Barrymore, and even has a cohesive storyline.
The child star certainly wasn’t the first celebrity to begin her career in commercials, though it’s hard to say whether her future acting ability is obvious here. For example, you can actually pinpoint the exact moment the director tells her to pull a sad face.
While appearing in adverts for major brands might be the peak of another actor’s career, for the latest progeny of the Barrymore clan this was far from enough, and her sights were squarely set on landing a role in Spielberg’s imminent landmark sci-fi.
16. She auditioned for Poltergeist
By the early 80s, you might argue that Drew Barrymore was known as a horror actor – if only because the genre has an insatiable appetite for little girls being creepy. Even then, it’s surprising to learn that Barrymore auditioned for Poltergeist.
It’s a little known fact that ET the Extra Terrestrial came out of the same project that spawned Poltergeist, an abandoned horror movie called Night Skies.
When Spielberg was stepping in for Poltergeist director Tobe Hooper at auditions, Drew Barrymore made her case. She later recalled on The Ellen Show that she “lied [her] face off,” telling the director that she was “in a rock and roll band” as a drummer.
“I felt like I had him in my butterfly net,” continued Barrymore. “I was so excited … I felt like girls can do anything.” Barrymore lost out on that role, which eventually went to fellow child actor Heather O’Rourke, but Drew had made an impression on Spielberg all the same.
According to the DVD commentary for ET, Spielberg cast Barrymore because she had the “right imagination” to play Gertie. Lying works, kids!
15. She remains the youngest ever host of Saturday Night Live
You may have thought that Macaulay Culkin was young when he hosted legendary US comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live at 11 years of age, but someone younger had already beaten him to it. You’ll never guess who.
Drew Barrymore was just seven years old when she first stepped out at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, with ET having so soon made her an international superstar.
Accompanied by SNL regular and Police Academy star Tim Kazurinsky, the young actor eschewed the traditional monologue in favour of answering questions supposedly pitched by the audience.
In fact, Barrymore seemingly enjoyed herself so much that she’s since hosted the show five more times, becoming the first female host in history to do so.
In addition to hosting, Barrymore has appeared on SNL in a cameo on three separate occasions, while also having the honour of having been impersonated by the likes of Jan Hooks and Kristen Wiig.
14. She started taking drugs when she was ten years old
Barrymore has been candid about her battle with drug addiction, writing in her 1991 autobiography, Little Girl Lost, that “when I was 10 years old, I was sitting in a room with a group of young adults who were smoking pot. I wanted to try some.”
She continued: “Eventually that got boring, and my addict mind told me, ‘Well, if smoking pot is cute, it’ll also be cute to get the heavier stuff like cocaine’. It was gradual. What I did kept getting worse and worse, and I didn’t care what anybody else thought.”
Barrymore’s issues were compounded by her parents, who were also facing substance abuse problems. Even worse, Barrymore’s mother, Jaid Barrymore, used her daughter’s newfound fame to enhance her own social life.
Drew – accompanied by her mother – became a regular at Studio 54, the infamous Broadway nightclub that became notorious for its star patrons and unabashed drug use.
The club’s owners were eventually convicted of hiding more than $2.5 million in profit from the federal government, and it was shut down. It has since reopened as a theatre.
13. She went into rehab at 13
At the age of 13, Barrymore embarked on a downward spiral that has since become the stuff of Hollywood legend.
Her mother, recognising her daughter’s persistent issues with drug and alcohol use, eventually checked Drew into rehab. Unfortunately, to use rehab parlance, that still wasn’t rock bottom.
Barrymore would be transferred to an institution for the mentally ill, where she spent 18 months receiving treatment. Deeply unhappy, and having already lived a hundred lives by the age of 14, Barrymore attempted suicide.
The actor ultimately emerged from rehab sober and ended up staying with singer David Crosby – of Crosby, Stills & Nash – for a period of three months.
According to Crosby, he offered to take in Barrymore because she “needed to be around some people that were committed to sobriety,” unlike her struggling parents.
12. She emancipated herself from her parents at 14
In a strange twist of fate, Barrymore foreshadowed how she would rewrite her relationship with her parents six years before it happened.
Alongside Cheers actor Shelley Long and Love Story’s Ryan O’Neal, Drew Barrymore had a starring role in 1984’s Irreconcilable Differences. Ostensibly a comedy, the film concerns a child (Barrymore) emancipating herself from her famous parents.
The film was a modest box office success, turning in $12 million from a budget of $6 million; more importantly, Long and Barrymore were nominated for Golden Globes for their performances.
In 1990, when she was just 14, Barrymore successfully petitioned the state of California to be emancipated, leaving her financially independent – though this wasn’t the end of the road for her relationship with her mother.
“…it seems crazy, especially as a parent,” Barrymore told Ellen in 2015, “but at the time [the emancipation] was a really necessary thing … it was where our journey had taken us at that moment, and it didn’t make either of us bad people. It just was what it was.”
11. She dated both Corey Haim and Corey Feldman
In the late 80s and early 90s, the Corey namesake was all the rage, not least because it counted two of Hollywood’s leading teen heartthrobs: Haim and Feldman.
Yet while pre-teens idolised the pair worldwide (resulting in The Simpsons’ amalgam character Corey Masterson, whose expensive hotline Lisa becomes addicted to), few could claim to have dated a Corey. Far fewer could claim a relationship with both!
In fact, Drew Barrymore dated both Coreys in the same year. In 1989, aged only 14, Barrymore began a relationship with notorious ‘bad boy’ Corey Feldman, who’d had a breakthrough role in The Goonies and cemented his acting credentials with 1987’s The Lost Boys.
Barrymore later dated Haim, who also starred in The Lost Boys. Coincidentally, Haim and Barrymore had both starred in Stephen King adaptations in 1985: Haim in Silver Bullet, and Barrymore in Cat’s Eye.
These relationships marked a turbulent and precocious time in Barrymore’s romantic life. Two years later, at the age of 16, she would become engaged to Leland Hayward, namesake and grandson of the Hollywood producer. The engagement lasted two months.
10. She could have played Julia Roberts’ role in Pretty Woman
It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Julia Roberts playing the role of Vivian in 1990’s Pretty Woman, but the iconic romance might have seen Drew Barrymore in the lead instead.
Indeed, the plans for this modern fairytale were initially completely different, and would have seen Vivian battling a drug addiction, with kicking the habit becoming a condition of her arrangement with Edward.
With that in mind, it’s a little easier to see Barrymore – the Hollywood wild child – in the role. This unmade version of Pretty Woman also dovetails with Barrymore’s more rebellious era of film roles.
First among these roles was the eponymous character of her infamous 1992 project, Poison Ivy, an erotic thriller in which a street-wise teen seduces her way into a rich family.
However, when Disney ended up financing Pretty Woman, much about the production was changed. A happy ending was added and Roberts, a relative unknown with an uncontroversial past, was cast.
9. She had a string of topless controversies
While Drew Barrymore was living a sober lifestyle, in early adulthood she was nonetheless adventurous and keen to shed her reputation as a child actor. As a result, in a series of media appearances, she played into her newly sexualised image.
In addition to her eroticised role in Poison Ivy, Barrymore posed nude with her then-fiancé, Beverly Hills 90210 actor Jamie Walters, for Interview magazine in 1992.
In 1995, at the age of 19, Barrymore conducted a nude photoshoot with Playboy magazine, appearing as the cover star of the January issue. Later that year, during an appearance on the Late Show, she flashed her breasts to host David Letterman as a ‘birthday present.’
By contrast, Barrymore starred in Boys on the Side in the same year. While her character begins trapped in an abusive, drug-fuelled relationship, she later falls in love with a police officer named Abe Lincoln (Matthew McConaughey). It’s a touching drama quite unlike the titillation-cinema of Poison Ivy.
Barrymore’s burgeoning reputation as a sex symbol did not go unnoticed. For her 20th birthday, Steven Spielberg sent her a quilt with a note attached: “Cover yourself up.”
8. Her production company saved Donnie Darko
By the end of the 90s, Barrymore had reached her early-to-mid twenties, and had proved that you can accomplish a lot in a vanishingly small period of time. To add another feather to her cap, she started a company alongside producer Nancy Juvonen: Flower Films.
The company debuted with the high school comedy Never Been Kissed, releasing in 1999 and starring Barrymore in the lead role as a 25-year-old journalist sent to work undercover in a high school.
The company then produced Charlie’s Angels, a popcorn action film that took a remarkable $264.1 million at the box office. Flower Films’ next project, however, couldn’t be cut from a more different cloth: 2001’s Donnie Darko.
Although the psychological thriller was a hit at the Sundance film festival in January, it was nearly released straight-to-video because of its warped themes and deliberately confusing narrative.
It was only after Barrymore personally put up the financing for a limited theatrical release that the film was ever seen in cinemas; it has since become a cult classic.
7. She spent a decade documenting her life on camera
Having previously been, in the 80s’ technical term, a ‘party animal’, Barrymore soon coupled her business ambitions with a more wholesome hobby: photography.
In a 2010 interview with Elle (translated from “Drew Barrymore ‘Les amours à distance c’est l’histoire de ma vie !'”), Barrymore describes how she carries a Pentax camera with her wherever she goes, and at that point had done so for ten years.
“I’ve taken thousands of pictures,” she revealed. “Friends, holidays, parties… it’s all in there.” It appears, however, that Barrymore was then at the end of the ten-year project.
“I’m in the process of beginning to organise them,” she continues. “The dream? Showing them off in a gallery.” Naturally, winnowing down thousands of photos to the dozens that might feature in a gallery setting would be quite the task.
Barrymore has yet to reveal the pictures in a gallery setting, though she does assiduously maintain an Instagram account with 12.9 million followers. Her uploads are often focused on repudiating airbrushing and the illusions of body shape and health that tabloids and other outlets purvey.
6. There are two songs named after her
It’s not unusual for Hollywood women to become ‘muses’ for other artists: think Uma Thurman for Quentin Tarantino, or Marilyn Monroe for pretty much everyone. Nonetheless, it’s a mark of true pop culture stardom to have a song named for you.
That’s the case for Drew Barrymore, who in fact has two eponymous songs. The first, by SZA, is not directly about Drew Barrymore but inspired by films like Poison Ivy and Never Been Kissed.
“I wrote about a party that I went to for a boy,” SZA said. “I was really excited [and] it turns out he brought a girl to the party… So, basically, I went. I did not ever see him for the entire party.”
Barrymore herself responded positively to the song, and even features in the music video in a cameo.
The other song, by Bryce Vine, plays more into Barrymore’s sex symbol image; it directly refers to the actor’s filmography with lyrics like “You smoke that poison ivy … 50 First Dates, hit it then skate (ooh)”.
5. She’s the godmother to Frances Bean Cobain
Given Drew Barrymore’s illustrious family history and perhaps even more illustrious godparents, it’s no surprise that she carries on the tradition by being a famous godparent herself.
Most famously, Barrymore is the godmother of Frances Bean Cobain, the daughter of legendary Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain and singer Courtney Love.
The arrangement dates back to the 90s, when Barrymore and Love emerged as two of Hollywood’s leading rebels. Love, however, is ten years older, and protected Barrymore from relapsing into addiction.
It’s a bitter irony, then, that Love endured her own stints in rehab in the mid-2000s. The two have remained fast friends since. Frances Bean Cobain was born in 1992 and has since forged a career as a model and visual artist.
Drew Barrymore isn’t Cobain’s only famous godparent, however: R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe is her godfather.
4. She has a daughter named Olive
Drew Barrymore has two children, both born during her ill-fated marriage to art consultant Will Kopelman (son of former Chanel CEO Arie Kopelman). The first, Olive, was born in 2012, followed by Frankie in 2014. Kopelman and Barrymore divorced in 2016.
While Barrymore has never publicly revealed the reasoning behind the naming of her children, there’s a strong possibility that the name Olive was hardly a coincidental choice.
That’s because Barrymore voiced the title character in 1999’s Olive, the Other Reindeer. The Christmas special sees a Jack Russell Terrier mistakenly believe she’s been summoned by Santa to save Christmas.
The special was produced by both Barrymore’s Flower Films and 20th Century Fox television, with the projected headed up by Matt Groening, premiering exactly ten years after the first episode of his landmark animated series The Simpsons.
As well as Barrymore, the special stars Groening regulars Dan Castellenata, Billy West and Tress MacNeille – and, oddly, R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe.
3. She prefers Grease 2 to the original
The original Grease was a critical and commercial success that immediately seared itself into the popular consciousness. Grease 2, on the other hand, elicits responses of “Wait, there was a Grease 2?”
Even with the claim to fame that the 1982 film was the feature debut of one Michelle Pfeiffer, it was still poorly received. Nonetheless, Drew Barrymore prefers it.
This fact came to light in the independent 2005 documentary My Date with Drew, starring and directed by Brian Herzlinger. Claiming to have had a crush on Barrymore since her ET days, Herzlinger sets out to have a date with the actor after winning a game show where her name was the critical answer.
Spoilers: the pair ultimately do go on a date, and what they bond over most is a shared appreciation of the critically reviled Grease sequel. It makes sense, of course, that Barrymore is a fan: she was only seven years old when the film hit cinemas – inexplicably, that’s the age that most children are exposed to the Grease franchise’s alluring mix of high school drama and mature themes.
“I love [Grease 2]…” says Barrymore in the documentary. “We were singing all the songs … I love it,” she continues, adding that she watched it on a cable TV airing no more than a fortnight earlier.
The documentary won numerous awards for its guerrilla filmmaking, including the fact that the project was completed within 30 days in order to return the camera on which it was shot to tech chain Circuit City.
2. She’s a huge Potterhead
When it comes to celebrities, it’s always tempting to imagine that they’re Just Like Us. No one could claim to have lived a life like Drew Barrymore’s, but it seems there is something she has in common with women around the globe: she’s a huge Potterhead.
This was revealed on the set of Charlie’s Angels, which went into production two years after the first book in the wizarding series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, hit bookstores in 1997.
The series was an immediate craze, and not even Barrymore was immune. In fact, she read passages from the book to her co-stars and crew members during breaks between scenes.
Charlie’s Angels even includes a homage to the series: Barrymore’s character can be seen wearing a Hogwarts-esque disguise in a flashback sequence.
Much hay was made of Barrymore’s personal Pottermania in the run-up to the film’s release, perhaps in an attempt to draw in fellow enthusiasts just before the first Harry Potter movie released in 2001.
1. She’s best friends with Cameron Diaz
Celebrities can have friends too! In fact, it’s even easier when the other person is also famous, as is the case with Hollywood BFFs Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz.
It’s rumoured that the two first met at an early age, when Barrymore served Diaz coffee, but the two didn’t truly connect until Barrymore hired the lead of There’s Something About Mary for 2000’s Charlie’s Angels.
“We’ve been in this industry for a really long time together and that’s a feat,” said Diaz of their friendship. “To have people that you’ve known for that long – those are real relationships – it’s real friendships, we’ve gone through a lot in life together.”
True enough, Barrymore’s status as a divorcee (many times over) and Diaz’s loss of her father to liver cancer in 2008 have meant the pair have frequently consoled each other.
“We’re like more than best friends, she’s my sister,” said Barrymore. While Diaz has now retired from acting, we’re hoping that Barrymore could coax her out for a project. Thelma & Louise reboot, anyone?