Jeremy Miller: Why The Growing Pains Star Never Made It Big

Remember Jeremy Miller? From 1985 to 1992, he was one of the most visible child stars in America, thanks to his role on the phenomenally popular ABC sitcom Growing Pains. In the comedy about the well-to-do Seaver family of Long Island, Miller played third-oldest sibling Ben, a mischievous, wisecracking grade-schooler, and agent of chaos who by the end of the show had evolved into a cool teenager and self-sufficient schemer. Miller was a vital, comedically talented member of the Growing Pains cast, which was an enduring top 10 hit and one of the most fondly remembered family sitcoms of an era lousy with family sitcoms.

While his castmates, particularly the late Alan Thicke, Kirk Cameron, and Leonardo DiCaprio, all enjoying various levels of fame in the years since their show's cancellation, Miller never really broke through as a major star, and Growing Pains remains his most prominent role to date. Here's why Hollywood might have never given Jeremy Miller a chance. 

Jeremy Miller didn't ever work much besides Growing Pains

The child stars that do successfully transition into long-lasting careers as adult actors usually do so because of an extensive resume. Beyond being good in one popular or well-recognized project, these former kid actors get cast in movies and TV shows because their reputation for good acting precedes them — never mind that they were just kids. The likes of Elijah Wood, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Drew Barrymore had all performed in lots of things by the time they grew up and grew into more mature projects.

This wasn't true for Jeremy Miller, which may explain his absence from major film and TV series since the early '90s. Before the debut of Growing Pains in 1985, he'd played small, brief roles on a couple of kids' shows and a miniseries, and voiced Linus in multiple Peanuts specials. The rigors of shooting a weekly sitcom for seven years didn't allow Miller much time to pursue other projects, and he didn't work on many side gigs while Growing Pains was in production. The result: When he was ready to move on in 1992, he didn't have all that much experience to prove his talents.

Jeremy Miller was overshadowed by another actor in the final days of Growing Pains

When Growing Pains debuted in 1985, Jeremy Miller was around eight years old. He was a teenager when the show began its seventh (and ultimately final) season in 1991 and was primed to replace Kirk Cameron as the show's resident teen idol. That would have given Miller a nice visibility and career boost for when Growing Pains went off the air, but that didn't come to pass, in part because he lost screen time — and thus a lot of attention from young, starry-eyed TV viewers — to a new cast addition. 

At the beginning of the season, the Seavers adopted a sweet but troubled kid named Luke Brower, portrayed by an emerging talent named Leonardo DiCaprio. It was he who replaced Cameron in the hearts and minds of millions of Growing Pains viewers, much to the chagrin of Miller, who felt that he was the rightful heir apparent. "It bothered me a little bit that the network felt necessary to bring him in rather than focusing on my character, who had now grown up and could now take over for Mike as the rapscallion," Miller said on Oprah: Where Are They Now.

Jeremy Miller can't escape the shadow of Growing Pains

A long-running sitcom can certainly be beneficial for an actor — it pays well, it makes them well-known to millions of viewers — but it can also be a curse. In its first few years, Growing Pains was a massive hit. Placing in the top 20 of the ratings chart in season one, it climbed to #5 by season three. In many ways, it was the definitive '80s family sitcom, utilizing that familiar formula of the era which mixed equal parts corniness, sarcasm, and treacly sentimentality. 

Tastes change over time, and audiences fell out of love with Growing Pains. By 1991-92, it had fallen to 75th in the ratings, and ABC canceled the series after seven seasons. This left Jeremy Miller in a bind. As of 1992, the teenaged actor was closely associated with a popular sitcom, but one which was regarded as past its prime and really passé. Hollywood might not have been interested in aligning itself with the star of an '80s relic.

Jeremy Miller isn't afraid to make fun of himself

Jeremy Miller hasn't completely given up acting, or even run away from what made him famous. As if acknowledging and even accepting the fact that he's forever going to be closely and unbreakably associated with Ben Seaver — a character he played as a child on an '80s-era family sitcom — Miller has frequently returned to that role, or roles very much like it, or ones which make fun of it.

In 2000, Miller ended a seven-year screen acting hiatus with the ABC made-for-TV reunion film The Growing Pains Movie. He took another three-year break, then cameoed as (and teased) himself in the 2003 David Spade comedy Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. A year later, Miller was back with another revival, the TV movie Growing Pains: Return of the Seavers, then once again played an exaggerated version of himself, a former child star in Star-ving, opposite Married...with Children actor David Faustino. As recently as 2020, he went the self-deprecating and meta route again as part of the cast of The Quarantine Bunch, a web series centered around a fictional support group for kid actors now in adulthood. While this keeps Miller on screens, this type of role may further pigeonhole him into the "former child star" niche.

Jeremy Miller is a family man

In the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2000s, when Jeremy Miller didn't act too much outside of some Growing Pains reunions and a handful of supporting roles in TV series and independent films, he was exploring alternate career trajectories while also getting his personal life together. According to People, he attended classes "at USC but dropped out after a year." As he told the outlet, "I have attention deficit disorder, so sitting in a classroom is not the best thing for me," he said. He also helped raise his much younger half-siblings before starting a family of his own. In the 2000s, according to TMZ, Miller wed his wife Joanie, and he's the stepson to her three sons from a previous relationship.

Miller may also have been inclined to lay low over an incident involving a stalker. During his time on Growing Pains, Miller received a number of letters from an older fan. They were concerning and threatening enough for law enforcement to get involved, and the man who sent the notes was eventually arrested.

Jeremy Miller's sci-fi TV comeback vehicle never got off the ground

Television is a business, and part of the decision for production companies and networks to decide whether or not to order a series involves a lot of cold, financial choices. For example, executives may choose not to order a full show out of a pilot episode if they determine that the lead actor isn't a bankable or marketable enough name. If a performer gets dogged with that reputation on one or two pilots, then they'll probably have a rough time booking major roles in future TV projects. This could be the case for former Growing Pains star Jeremy Miller. 

Around 2000, according to People, he acted in an ultimately abandoned sci-fi series pilot called Space Trucking. In 2018, Miller headlined 3rd Eye, a pilot for a thriller about a psychic whose life is thrown into chaos and mystery, inspired by real medium William Constantine. The independently-produced pilot was never picked up by a network, and an Indiegogo financing campaign proved unsuccessful, leaving the project to falter and an intriguing comeback opportunity passing by Jeremy Miller.

Jeremy Miller dealt with alcoholism and mental illness

Jeremy Miller isn't as visible an actor in the 2020s as he was in the 1980s or 1990s, but he's spent some of that time out of the spotlight working on himself and trying to tackle some deep-seated personal issues. On Oprah: Where Are They Now?, Miller revealed that he'd started experimenting with alcohol at age four, and then developed what would become a drinking problem at the age of 12. In the years after Growing Pains ended, Miller fell into a binge-drinking habit. "I'd rush immediately to the liquor store to get something — usually two or three cans of high-gravity malt liquor and then by noon I'd be working on a pint of whatever I decided to buy — bourbon, vodka. By the evening I'd be working on another," he told ET Canada. "I'm glad I did not own a gun, because I hated myself so thoroughly that I would have done something very stupid."

Miller attempted several programs to treat his addiction, including rehab facilities, meditation, and Alcoholics Anonymous, according to Fox Business. The actor ended his dependency on alcohol thanks to a cutting-edge, $25,000 medical treatment in which a dose of the craving-killing drug naltrexone was surgically implanted in his body and slowly released over a period of time until Miller no longer wanted alcohol. "It was an absolute game changer for me. I had struggled for 15 years."

Jeremy Miller is really cooking now

Jeremy Miller is lucky enough to have more than one passion that he could turn into a viable career. Sure, he likes acting and making films and TV shows, but he's been highly interested in cooking since he was a toddler, learning from his grandmother, a self-taught professional and restaurateur. "She had her own restaurants," Miller told FlashBack Tonight. "From three years old I followed her around the kitchen." During summer taping breaks from Growing Pains, Miller would work at his grandmother's eatery, working his way up from busboy to the head breakfast cook by age 13.

Cooking is a skill and a passion that has served Miller well, particularly during the periods where the acting gigs weren't overly forthcoming. He worked as a caterer and a private chef in Los Angeles — in other words, a literal celebrity chef whose clientele consisted largely of celebrities. Specializing in Cajun, Creole, and Italian cuisine, he's cooked and catered at events thrown by the Black Eyed Peas and Growing Pains cast members Kirk Cameron, Tracey Gold, Joanna Kerns, and Alan Thicke.

Jeremy Miller is making a lot of indie movies

The filmmaking industry of the 21st century is a huge metaphorical tent. Hundreds of movies are produced in the United States each year, and filmmakers can cater to all kinds of specific audiences and sensibilities, especially since so many cable channels, streaming services, and straight-to-video distributors need content.

Jeremy Miller appears to be thriving in this new version of Hollywood with viewer gatekeepers. As of March 2021, he's got a lot of projects in the pipeline, with five disparate movies either in production or awaiting release. Miller will star as Phil in the faith-based drama Tar Beach, Doobie in the slacker comedy Alive and Kicking, Bart Fitzpatrick in the Ireland-set horror Awakening, and Professor Gilbert in the mutated-roaches-attack-a-college campy B-movie Aaah! Roach!. Miller is also branching out to other parts of the movie-making process. He'll appear in the marijuana-themed ensemble horror-comedy MariGuana, a movie that also marks the first project Miller helped produce. He also assisted in the making of (and co-stars in) the gory serial killer flick Normal Terror.