Tragic Details About Tatum O'Neal

The following article includes allegations of child abuse, domestic abuse, and sexual assault, as well as discussions of suicide attempts.

For anyone who doesn't know, Tatum O'Neal is a Hollywood legend. At the time of this writing, O'Neal holds the title as the youngest actor ever to win an Academy Award. The child star wore an iconic black-and-white suit with a bowtie when she accepted the Oscar in 1974 for her supporting role in the film, Paper Moon. O'Neal starred alongside her father, Ryan O'Neal, in the movie about a con-artist team in the 1930s. Despite having no previous acting experience, Tatum commanded the screen with her performance and quickly won the hearts of critics and audiences.

And yet, like many child stars, Tatum O'Neal's life was no Hollywood fairytale. Known for speaking candidly about her struggles surrounding family discord, abuse, addiction, and more throughout the past few decades, the actor has bravely shone a light on the darker side of Tinseltown. "I've stood my ground in life, alone, even against overwhelming forces with the might and money to crush me," she wrote in her 2004 memoir, A Paper Life. "I've purged myself of bitterness and anger and remained open to love. I've kept my moral compass intact and aimed at true north." She added, "I have survived — and won."

Here are the tragic details about Tatum O'Neal's life.

Ryan O'Neal 'resented' his daughter's Oscar win

Winning the Oscar for Paper Moon should have been a joyous event for 10-year-old Tatum O'Neal. Instead, the actor told Dateline NBC that she felt "overwhelming sadness" and utterly "abandoned" in her moment of glory, In her memoir, A Paper Life, O'Neal related that neither of her parents attended the awards ceremony (in fairness, Ryan O'Neal was filming a movie in England at the time). And while Tatum did receive a congratulatory phone call from her father, her mother, Joanna Moore, said nothing. Tatum wrote (via the Independent), "I had little sense of accomplishment. There was no fanfare from anyone who mattered to me."

In Tatum's adorably short acceptance speech, she thanked the movie's director and her father. Sadly, Tatum has claimed that the Academy Award drove a painful wedge between father and daughter, writing in her memoir, "In the press, he played the doting father. But in his eyes, I read the truth: deep resentment that his own brilliant performance was being dismissed."

Tatum has also claimed that her father's jealousy boiled over into a violent rage. During a 2004 appearance on Larry King Live, the actor said that while she has no memory of the alleged disturbing event, a family friend informed her that Ryan reportedly punched his young daughter in the face after she received the nomination. When Stone Phillips of Dateline NBC asked Tatum about how her win impacted their relationship, the star's reply was heartbreaking: "It sort of destroyed us."

Joanna Moore lost custody of her children when Tatum O'Neal was only six

Tatum O'Neal's mother was Joanna Moore, a popular actor who famously appeared on The Andy Griffith Show. Moore married Ryan O'Neal in 1963 and had daughter Tatum that same year. Her brother, Griffin O'Neal, was born one year later. After the two divorced in 1967, Moore's drug and alcohol use spiraled into a full blown addiction.

In interviews and her memoirs, Tatum has described an upbringing that no child should ever have to endure. She wrote in A Paper Life (via Dateline NBC): "In the grip of addiction, she [Moore] had virtually abandoned me and Griffin, leaving us in squalor — starving, shoeless, and ragged, as well as beaten and abused by the men in her life." In her second book, Found: A Daughter's Journey Home, Tatum claimed that she and her brother were once locked in a garage and forced to eat dog food to keep from starving, per

The neglect and abuse became so severe that Moore lost custody of her children in 1970 — Tatum was only six years old. Moore continued to act through the mid-80s, but tragically never got sober and was arrested multiple times for alleged DUIs. She died from lung cancer in 1997 at the age of 63. In a show of empathy for her late troubled mother, Tatum lamented on The Wendy Williams Show in 2018 that Moore was "marginalized" and "pushed aside" due to her addiction issues.

Inside Tatum and Ryan O'Neal's rocky relationship

After Joanna Moore lost custody, Tatum O'Neal and her brother, Griffin O'Neal, went to live with their father. Unfortunately, the actor has claimed that life with Ryan O'Neal wasn't much better. According to Tatum's interview with Dateline NBC, she was "exposed" to her father's sexual escapades and drug use as a young child. The Oscar winner went on to recount how the Love Story actor's alleged physical, emotional, and verbal abuse affected her. She often asked herself, "Am I going to be loved today?" adding, "It's hard to grow up like that."

For his part, Ryan has woven an ambiguous narrative in interviews. He has denied many of his daughter's claims, but also admitted to Vanity Fair in 2009 that he was a "hopeless father." However, in the same interview, he changed course again and railed against both children, calling daughter Tatum a derogatory term and expressing fury over her A Paper Life memoir. While appearing on Piers Morgan Tonight in 2011, Ryan insisted, "She had a wonderful childhood. She met Queen Elizabeth."

At the time of the Piers Morgan interview, the father-daughter duo were in the midst of filming a reality show, Ryan and Tatum: The O'Neals. Previously estranged, the pair used the show as a means of reconciliation. Sadly, their relationship continued to be volatile after the series ended, with Ryan publicly expressing his displeasure with Tatum in the years that followed.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services at

Sexual abuse plagued Tatum O'Neal's youth

Tatum O'Neil's childhood was made even more hellish by sexual abuse. When speaking with Dateline NBC about A Paper Life in 2004, O'Neal confirmed that her mother, Joanna Moore, often left her alone with strangers who preyed upon her as a child. She also discussed another tragic event: a friend of her father's reportedly gave her drugs and then assaulted her. During her 2018 appearance on The Wendy Williams Show, the actor told the titular host that she was also molested by her mother's boyfriend's brother. 

That October, O'Neal posted a heartbreaking post on Instagram, which read, "I am a woman and I have been sexually assaulted more than once!! It was not my fault when I was 5, 6, 12, 13, 15. – All by older men who I thought were safe!" O'Neal went on to express her disgust that then-President Donald Trump would mock Professor Christine Blasey Ford during her testimony against Brett Kavanaugh to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The actor ended her post by asking for "empathy" and "kindness" for sexual assault survivors.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit for additional resources.

Tatum O'Neal's complicated relationships with her brothers

Tatum O'Neal and her brother, Griffin O'Neal, endured their harsh childhood years together. And yet, after the actor published her first memoir, Larry King read a statement from Griffin that read, "It saddens me that she has told our story so incredibly wrong ... specifically regarding our father, Ryan [O'Neal]." However, Griffin later changed his tune and spent the next decade corroborating his sister's accusations of abuse. Like his sister and mother, Griffin also battled addiction. In a 2015 interview with People, he told the publication he was sober but no longer on speaking terms with his sister.

Meanwhile, Tatum's half-brother, Patrick O'Neal, has claimed that his experience with father Ryan was completely different. In 2012, the sportscaster went on Access Hollywood to defend his father from critical media coverage and insisted that Ryan was a wonderful and loving man. While Patrick wished Tatum had not written her tell-all memoirs, he wrote in a 2012 HuffPost piece, "Tatum O'Neal ... was always very kind and generous to me."

The son of Charlie's Angels star Farrah Fawcett, Redmond O'Neal is Tatum O'Neal's youngest brother. Redmond also became addicted to drugs and was in and out of rehabilitation centers and jail. Revealing to People in 2015 that she had attempted to help her brother, Tatum stated, "From what I've seen, there is no way he's going to survive." In 2018, Redmond was arrested for armed robbery and attempted murder.

Her tumultuous marriage to John McEnroe ended in divorce

When Tatum O'Neal married John McEnroe in 1986, the attractive, famous couple seemed to have it all. But the bad boy of tennis and the former child star had a notoriously tumultuous relationship. Both O'Neal and McEnroe have written about their drug use, but O'Neal admitted that she was the one who was truly addicted. The actor told Dateline NBC that as the years went on, McEnroe's alleged temper increased and, during one fight, he reportedly pushed and kicked her. The couple divorced in 1994.

After the separation, there was a custody battle over the pair's three young children (more on this below), and O'Neal's drug use spiraled out of control. After McEnroe told the world about O'Neal's drug abuse in a tell-all book, The Bad News Bears actor retaliated by accusing the tennis pro of using steroids. McEnroe eventually remarried, and regardless of their decades-long estrangement, O'Neal told People in 2015, "I would say there isn't a relationship but there is respect now."

Despite her accusations of bullying and abuse, O'Neal expressed regret over her decision to divorce McEnroe in a CBS Sunday Morning interview in 2020. The actor mused, "The happiest times of my life were the times that I was married ... sometimes we think we're making the right decision and maybe we aren't." She added, "I was loved, I was cared for ... I've never met anyone who even comes close to my ex-husband."

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224. You can also find more information, resources, and support at

Tatum O'Neal temporarily lost custody of her children in 1998

Tatum O'Neal and ex-husband John McEnroe share three children together: Kevin, Sean, and Emily. Unfortunately, the kids were affected by their parents' constant arguments and O'Neal's drug addiction. 

The actor lost custody for several years beginning in 1998, when her then-7-year-old daughter found heroin paraphernalia in her mother's apartment (via Dateline NBC). In 2015, Kevin told People, "I would lock myself in my room because it was hard to be around her not acting like herself ... I had a hard time speaking about it and I shut down." Sean echoed his brother's statement when he told The Post (via Page Six) in 2016 that they knew when their mother was high and would try to avoid her.

Despite the trauma and heartache, O'Neal eventually gained partial custody and spent the next several years rebuilding her bond with all three children. In 2020, she told CBS Sunday Morning, "I was really ready to kind of fall down and not get back up ... The kids gave me a real reason to keep going and fight." In the same interview, Emily praised her mother by saying, "My mom is incredibly loving ... my mom lights up every room that she enters."

The former child star was arrested for drug possession in 2008

In 2008, the New York Daily News broke the story that Tatum O'Neal had been arrested only a few blocks from her Manhattan home. The former child star claimed that she was "doing research for a part," but police reportedly found crack and cocaine in her pocket. According to a source cited by the publication, O'Neal supposedly pleaded with the police officers, "I've been clean for a long time. Today was the first time I was relapsing, but you guys saved me!"

After being released on bail, O'Neal spoke with the New York Post and reiterated that the police "saved" her and insisted that she was still sober. The Rescue Me actor explained that she was feeling incredibly depressed after the death of her dog, but added, "I'm eternally grateful, as sort of grim as the situation was, that I didn't get to do what my disease was telling me to do."

According to ABC News, O'Neal was charged with misdemeanor criminal possession of a controlled substance, but "agreed to enter a treatment program." She later told People of her relapse, "I made a giant, horrible mistake that I regret and feel really ashamed and embarrassed about. I take full responsibility." A few months later, O'Neal announced to the outlet, "I'm sober. I thank God every day I have been able to overcome my demons and my stuff."

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).

Tatum O'Neal struggled to get parts after Paper Moon

After winning the Oscar at the age of 10, Tatum O'Neal starred in the films The Bad News Bears, International Velvet, and Little Darlings. From the mid-1980s on, however, she worked sporadically in television and film, with bit parts on shows like Sex and the City, Law and Order, and Criminal Minds. Luckily, O'Neal caught a break in 2004, when she won the recurring role of Maggie Gavin in the Denis Leary-led dramedy series, Rescue Me, and appeared on the show for all seven seasons. During her run, she earned praise from entertainment critics for her portrayal of an alcoholic.

Unfortunately, O'Neal has said that booking jobs in Hollywood has been challenging since her breakout role in Paper Moon. When CBS Sunday Morning's Tracy Smith asked the actor how unparalleled success at such a young age affected her career, O'Neal answered, "I think it really screws you up. Case in point: I think I would work consistently, but I suck at auditioning. So the fact that I can't get myself a job ... because I can't audition properly is funny to me."

Rheumatoid arthritis has been a 'tough road' for the star

Sadly, life threw Tatum O'Neal another curve ball when she turned 50 years old. When the actor later reached out to the Arthritis Foundation in 2016, she revealed that she had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that had caused excruciating pain in her back, knees, hands, and ankles. As the actor admitted to the organization, "It's been a tough road."

After undergoing surgeries for her back and neck discs, O'Neal tried the medication methotrexate in an attempt to alleviate her RA symptoms. Unfortunately, her body had such a bad reaction to the drug that she developed chronic pneumonia. But thankfully, O'Neal also told the magazine that her children had been her biggest supporters during this time.

Four years later, O'Neal was still suffering from RA complications and told CBS Sunday Morning, "My hands stopped working ... I can't tie my shoes. I have to re-learn to write." The actor endured more surgeries and posted a heartbreaking picture of her bruised and scarred back on Instagram in 2020. "Believe it or not this is me actually getting better," O'Neal wrote in part in the caption, adding, "Cheers to everyone and rheumatoid arthritis can go f**k itself #rheumatoidarthritiswarrior."

Tatum O'Neal's suicide attempts

Tatum O'Neal's first suicide attempt occurred when she was only 12 years old. The actor described what led her to the dark moment in A Paper Life and with Dateline NBC. O'Neal traveled to Europe with her father, his friend (who has also been referred to as his drug dealer), and her best friend, 18-year-old Melanie Griffith. She reportedly walked in on her father and Griffith together and became so distraught at the betrayal that she attempted to take her own life. After she woke up, the actor realized that she had been sexually assaulted by her father's friend.

In October 2020, anonymous law enforcement sources claimed to TMZ that O'Neal had allegedly threatened to take her own life. As is standard, the actor was reportedly taken to a hospital and "placed on a psychiatric hold for further evaluation." At the time of this writing, neither O'Neal nor her representative has publicly discussed the alleged incident.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.