The Untold Truth Of Macaulay Culkin

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

When he was 20 years old, Macaulay Culkin said the following to New York Mag: "I've been in this business for sixteen years, had an agent for fourteen of them and a lawyer for eleven." Culkin's pithy declaration typifies an uncomfortable truth for many former child actors, though there is arguably no other child star — perhaps save for Shirley Temple – whose appeal has endured as long as Culkin's. Also known as Macaulay Macaulay Culkin Culkin (thanks Twitter), the actor has experienced a resurgence in popularity, in part due to widespread '90s nostalgia. Subsequently, this has led many fans to speculate on what really went down between the "Home Alone" icon and Hollywood, and, more precisely, what caused him to shun the industry.

Without doubt, the actor's aghast face remains his most defining, as Kevin McCallister plotted his ingeniously sadistic revenge on Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. But there is so much more to Culkin than that fiendish, albeit thoroughly adorable, little tyke. Born into a dysfunctional family, Culkin had to overcome some truly horrific setbacks to become the man he is today. What's more, he's had to fend off salacious tabloid rumors regarding his private life and personal habits for decades. It turns out that the truth is far more complex and nuanced than various online tattle has afforded him. So, let's explore who the real Macaulay Culkin is. 

The man, the myth, the Mack: this is the untold truth of Macaulay Culkin.

Macaulay Culkin had a difficult childhood

Macaulay Culkin may be associated with the McCallister family and their sprawling, spectacular Chicago abode, but the actor's childhood couldn't have been more disparate. Culkin and his siblings grew up in poverty. Speaking with New York Mag, he described his boyhood home as "basically one long hallway separated by doorways with no doors." Born on August 26, 1980, in New York, Culkin was raised by his father, Kit, and mom, Patricia Brentrup.

When they met, Kit was 27 and Patricia was just 17, as Culkin detailed in "WTF Podcast." He had seven siblings, quipping to "WTF" host Marc Maron that his parents couldn't afford to have a child, let alone seven. Billy Hopkins, who aided Culkin's early career, described the family as "so poor I had to use my own money to make sure that he got to and from rehearsal," likening the Culkins to "the Beverly Hillbillies," per NY Mag.

But poverty wasn't Culkin's only misfortune. By all accounts, his father was a "jealous" brute who frequently took his anger out on young Mack. "We didn't like each other," Culkin told Marc Maron, noting that he hasn't spoken to Kit in almost 25 years. "He was a bad man... He was abusive, physically and mentally. You know, I can show you all my scars if you want to." Speaking to CNN, he characterized Kit as "very controlling... he played games with you, just to make sure you were still in your place."

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

The child actor provided a way out of poverty for his family

Kit Culkin saw his son as a ticket out of poverty. The elder Culkin had himself "been sort of an actor when he was young," as Mack explained to New York Mag. Per Esquire, Kit signed his young boy up for ballet classes to get him on the acting career ladder, along with older brother Shane. "Next thing you know, I'm booking like every gig," Macaulay told Marc Maron. "I get in the School of American Ballet... so I was a professional ballet dancer for a couple of years."

Thanks to a neighbor who worked in the biz, Mack Culkin's potential was swiftly scouted. "She figured there might be somebody of the right age and the right gender and there I was," he told NY Mag. Aged 8, Culkin had his first role in "Rocket Gibraltar," alongside acting legend Burt Lancaster. The youngster exhibited major bravado. "I didn't even realize who I was working with. It was one of Burt Lancaster's last things. He sits me down and he's like 80 and I'm 6 and he goes, 'So, do you have any advice for me?' I go, 'Yeah: Just don't step on my lines,'" he joked to the outlet.

Opening up about the constraints of child stardom, Culkin told Joe Rogan, "I never chose the projects... My parents essentially chose them for me." Subsequently, Rogan jokingly imitated Culkin's parents, quipping, "Good news, Macaulay, you're gonna buy us a new house!"

The origins of Home Alone

In 1989, Macaulay Culkin starred in "Uncle Buck," and the movie would prove to inspire director John Hughes to pen the script for "Home Alone." "That scene where I'm looking through the mail slot? Hughes saw that and he got the idea: Kid defends house! And he wrote 'Home Alone' for me," Culkin told Esquire.

When it came to casting, director Chris Columbus only had eyes for Macaulay. "No one else had whatever quality Mack had," Columbus told The Independent. "He felt like a real kid but was also incredibly charming and extraordinarily funny. ... One ear was kind of bent, he didn't look like other kids — but everyone who met him fell in love with him and for me, that's a movie star." Meanwhile, editor Raja Gosnell praised Culkin's "abundance of energy" and "comic timing and facial expressions." Of course, where would we be without that memeworthy Kevin McCallister facial expression?

"Home Alone" was a huge hit, one that propelled the cherubic youngster toward vast stardom. Per Forbes, the film held the box office record for a live-action comedy for 27 years. Suddenly, this impoverished young boy was gracing magazine covers and being transported across the globe for the talk show circuit. After the seminal Christmas flick, for which Culkin's salary is not verified, the family was "still living in that one-bedroom apartment," per "WTF Podcast." However, it wouldn't be long before Culkin was lining the pockets of his parents handsomely.

Macaulay Culkin missed out on much of his childhood

Macaulay Culkin's disillusionment with the entertainment industry began early. While it may have appeared that he was living every kid's fantasy, all the preteen really wanted to do was go to school. "It started feeling like a chore. I started vocalizing that and not being heard... 'I wanna go to school — I haven't done a full year of school since first grade,'" he told Esquire.

Following "Home Alone," Culkin starred in tearjerker "My Girl," which is arguably responsible for traumatizing an entire generation of apiphobic kids. But it was when he filmed "Home Alone 2" that he began to feel the brunt of fame. "I was getting changed in my trailer on the street. Next thing I know, there was a group of upwards of about 200 people shaking my trailer. It scared the sh*t out of me," he lamented to New York Mag.

In particular, it was the lack of control that vexed Culkin. For instance, when hosting "SNL" in 1991, Culkin's father made him "do the whole episode without cue cards," he said on "WTF Podcast." As he told Spin, "Everyone was always saying, 'That Mack, he's nine going on 40.' No, I'm nine going on 10, and I'm really looking forward to 11. I went from having nothing to do with my life to wanting to have full control over it."

Macaulay Culkin's unusual friendship with The King of Pop

Of all the bizarre celeb friendships (and there's a lot of them: Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart, anyone?), Macaulay Culkin and Michael Jackson are definitely up there. The two shared a strong bond for years, with the actor even appearing in Jackson's 1991 music video for "Black Or White" alongside fellow '90s star George Wendt aka Norm from "Cheers." Mack is also godfather to Jackson's daughter, Paris.

During his appearance on Marc Maron's "WTF Podcast," Culkin discussed the beginning of this unusual friendship. "We actually met when I was doing The Nutcracker... He came backstage before the show," Culkin revealed, adding that Jackson recognized him from "Uncle Buck" and subsequently contacted him after he made "Home Alone." The child actor and pop superstar began hanging out, with Culkin telling Maron, "He was like my best friend growing up... It was legitimate friendship." Regarding the musician's interest in age-inappropriate friendships with young boys, Culkin indicated that Jackson enjoyed being around kids, perhaps because he lost out on his own childhood, though the actor didn't want to overanalyze.

Subsequently, Culkin has insisted that his relationship with The King of Pop was wholly innocent. "The thing is with that whole thing, oh, you slept in the same bedroom as him," he explained to CNN. "It's like, I don't think you understand, Michael Jackson's bedroom is two stories and it has like three bathrooms... So, when I slept in his bedroom, yes, but you understand the whole scenario."

The actor didn't divorce his parents

As Spin notes, "By 12, [Macaulay Culkin] was earning anywhere from $5 million to $8 million a movie." There was just one problem: Culkin's earnings were in the hands of Kit and Patricia. It has long been reported that he divorced his parents when he was 15 — following the critically panned "Richie Rich" — but Culkin says this isn't accurate. "It's always misconstrued, that I 'emancipated' myself from my parents," he explained to Esquire. "I legally took my parents' names off of my trust fund and found an executor... just in case anyone wanted to stick their f***ing pinkie in the pie. But the next thing you know, the story was that I divorced my parents."

The decision came amidst turmoil within the Culkin household. In 1995, his parents called it quits and entered a costly custody battle, which, Culkin told New York Mag, almost saw the family face eviction. This, Culkin, has said, was the last straw. "It was like, 'That's it, no more,'" he explained to Spin. "'Hope you all made your money, because there's no more coming from here.'"

Finally, Culkin was able to experience freedom and went on a lengthy acting hiatus, one which lasted almost a decade. "It became weird because I wasn't working at all," he reflected to Spin. "And I felt there was resentment from some people who were out there auditioning... Not like I could just snap my fingers–Get Marty Scorsese on the phone!"

Macaulay Culkin got married as a teen

By the late '90s, Macaulay Culkin was enjoying his retirement from acting on screen. After enrolling in a Manhattan high school, from which he dropped out as a senior, he admitted to Time that, while he certainly hadn't adhered to the ex-child star trope of booze and drugs, he was nonetheless engaging in some outlandish behavior. This included buying "a whole bunch of stupid stuff that I didn't even really want" and getting married when he was just a kid.

In 1998, Culkin and fellow actor Rachel Miner wed when they were both a mere 17 years old. Declaring their engagement and imminent marriage in a statement, the couple said that they were "thrilled to have found each other as soul mates at such a tender age," per Newsweek. The happy couple appeared in the Sonic Youth music video for "Sunday," in which they exhibited their intense chemistry as amorous young lovers.

Alas, it simply was not meant to be for the teen newlyweds, and Culkin and Miner announced their separation in 2000. "It is very amicable, and they remain the best of friends," Culkin's publicist stated, per AP News. Musing on his brief teen marriage, Culkin asked Spin, "If you were going to write out all the clichés of being a young actor, what are they? Either you're going to lose all your money, you're going to be addicted to drugs... or you're going to get married young. Okay, guilty on that count."

Party Monster and hanging with Marilyn Manson

After an acting hiatus, Macaulay Culkin finally returned to the big screen in 2003 to play Michael Alig, an '80s "Club Kid" whose partying ways took a decidedly sinister turn. Incredibly, "Party Monster" would be Culkin's first film role since 1994's "Richie Rich." New era, new Mack. This time around, the cherubic little boy had been replaced by a strutting young lad. In an otherwise unfavorable review, Newsweek wrote, "Macaulay Culkin gamely transforms himself into fey, b****y Michael Alig."

Chatting to ABC for "20/20," Culkin emphasized that he wanted this mature role to mark a shift in his public persona. "I don't want to do what I did before. Before it was, you know, it was like people's livelihoods were on the line ... they like built an industry out of me," he told Barbara Walters. "It was just this really odd dynamic that I think made me uncomfortable for a lot of my young life."

At this point, he also began hanging out with shock rocker Marilyn Manson, who co-starred with him in the film. It was, of course, the early 2000s and Manson was the epitome of edgy pop culture. At the time, the New York Post (via reported that Culkin had bought Manson his first pack of cigarettes and proceeded to teach him how to smoke. "It was such an interesting role reversal — the 'Home Alone' kid corrupting the Anti-Christ Superstar," the film's co-director, Fenton Bailey, mused.

Falling in love with Mila Kunis

Following his divorce from Rachel Miner, Macaulay Culkin met Mila Kunis, who was starring on "That '70s Show" at the time. When he first met Kunis, Culkin explained to New York Mag, "I was single, a divorcé... I decided to be abstinent or asexual or whatever. I made a vow." That vow was soon broken once he set eyes on the brunette beauty, and the pair became swiftly smitten. While it is unclear how the couple met, Kunis told Women's Health that she and Culkin "grew up together."

The pair were super loved-up indeed, apparently enjoying some heated PDA at a concert in 2004. As Culkin's "Saved!" director, Brian Dannelly, recounted to Spin, "We're at this giant Christian rock concert, and he's making out with Mila. People were horrified, but I thought it was kind of fabulous. It shows he's got a strong sense of himself." While her beau preferred to avoid discussing his love life, Kunis made it no secret that she thought Mack was a snacc. "We enjoy each other's company... And he's an amazing cook. He makes dinner every night," she gushed to Parade in 2007.

Sadly, the romance fizzled circa 2011. During an appearance on "Armchair Expert," Kunis admitted that they had a "horrible, horrible, horrible breakup" and she was "a d*ck" to Culkin. Elaborating, Kunis told host Dax Shepard, "I f***ed up. I was an a**hole in my 20s, and I'll be the first to admit it."

Macaulay Culkin wrote his first novel in 2006

In 2006, Macaulay Culkin released his debut novel, "Junior," which tells the story of the eponymous protagonist's dysfunctional childhood and daddy issues. Sound familiar? "In a perfect world, my name wouldn't even be on it," Culkin explained to New York Mag. "It came from the idea of everyone wanting me to write a memoir. I play with that a little bit, the idea of naming names, kind of teasing people, you know?"

Unfortunately, the reviews were far from glowing. Kirkus Reviews described "Junior" as an "audaciously empty mishmash of poems, letters, comics, etc." that "has managed to lower the already low bar set for celebrity fiction." Ouch! EW notes that the novel was published by Miramax Books (yes, that same Miramax set up by disgraced movie mogul turned convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein) and the publishers skillfully edited bad reviews to reframe criticism as commendation.

Despite the poor response, Culkin ultimately wanted to use the book as a form of catharsis; in particular, he needed to vent about his troubled relationship with his father, which is the central theme of "Junior." Reflecting on this, Culkin poignantly told NY Mag, "I think there's two different fathers that I have. I have my father, and I have the one in my head. The real one is gone and should be gone. But I think I was looking to put the one in my head to rest."

A slice of The Pizza Underground

What next for a former child star cum unsuccessful novelist? Starting a pizza-themed Velvet Underground tribute band, of course. According to Philly, The Pizza Underground was formed "as a joke in 2012." But what began as a gag — apparently in the midst of inebriation — led to actual concerts and some pretty major plans from Mack. "It's one of those good ideas you have when you're drunk, and you wake up and forget about it," he admitted to The Guardian. "But we're taking it to the end of the joke. We have an album coming out, a vinyl pressing with a children's choir, a symphony orchestra. We're giving it away, our gift to the world."

Some of the group's notable cheesy covers include "All the Pizza Parties" and "Take A Bite of the Wild Slice." Unlike their iconic '60s predecessors, The Pizza Underground did not receive a unanimously warm reception when they played live. In fact, during a performance in Nottingham, England, the band were heckled off stage after 15 minutes, per Rolling Stone. We can't help but wonder if Culkin asked the irate crowd, "You wanna pizza me?"

Alas, the pizza party has since come to an end, with Culkin confirming the split on "WTF Podcast." "I was a little tired of it, to be completely honest," he admitted. No matter how you slice it, it's disappointing to see the end of a band who were so cheesy on the ear.

The real reason Macaulay Culkin left Hollywood

Having toyed with novels, music, and theater since quitting the biz, it's clear that Macaulay Culkin never saw A-list leading man status among his ambitions. But the question remains: what really made the kid who had it all, well, leave it all behind? It turns out that it wasn't acting Culkin disliked, but the unrelenting and exhausting junkets. "I enjoy acting. I enjoy being on set," he told Esquire. "I don't enjoy a lot of the other things that come around it. What's a good analogy? 'The Shawshank Redemption.' The way he gets out of prison is to crawl through a tube of sh*t, you know? It feels like to get to that kind of freedom, I'd have to crawl through a tube of sh*t."

As a child, Culkin found all of these requirements unbearable. "I remember sitting one time doing 100 interviews in a day, and they're all television interviews... They bring these people in and out," he lamented to CNN.

However, the actor also acknowledges that the stresses of child stardom have granted him a unique maturity and perspective on life, despite enduring his fair share of "directionless days" due to lack of a consistent schedule. "It's allowed me to become the person I am, and I like me, so I wouldn't change a thing. Not having to do anything for my dinner, financially, lets me treat every gig like it's the last," he mused to The Guardian.

The actor rejected The Big Bang Theory

One could pretty much count Macaulay Culkin's filmography of the last decade on a single hand. Aside from roles in the occasional indie flick, such as Adam Green's apparently no-budget, iPhone-shot "The Wrong Ferrari," it's safe to say that the film and TV mainstream won't be seeing Culkin's distinctive face any time soon. That could have all changed, however, if he had accepted a major role.

Chatting with Joe Rogan, Culkin confessed that he rejected "The Big Bang Theory" despite the fact that he would have raked in mega bucks from the series. "They pursued me for 'The Big Bang Theory,'" he explained to Rogan. "And I said no. It was kind of like, the way the pitch was, 'Alright, these two astrophysicist nerds and then a pretty girl lives with them. Yoinks!' That was the pitch... And I said, 'Yeah, I'm cool, thanks.' And then they came back at me again, and I said, 'No, no, no. Again, flattered, but, like, no.'"

Lead actors Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, and Kaley Cuoco were rumored to have earned over $1 million per episode by the show's eighth season, so Culkin was turning down some major dough, indeed. However, while the actor admitted that "I'd have hundreds of millions of dollars right now if I did that gig," he also acknowledged that "at the same time, I'd be bashing my head against the wall." For Culkin, joining the ranks of the super rich isn't worth people yelling "bazinga!" everywhere he goes.

Kevin McCallister is now a dad

For a time, Mack divided his time between New York and Paris, telling Marc Maron in 2018 that he had lived in the latter for four years. "I thought nobody recognized me. What it was was, 'No, we recognize you, we just don't care,'" he joked regarding his move to France. But it wasn't in the City of Love where he met his love. Culkin and Disney Channel alum Brenda Song met in Thailand when they were filming his buddy Seth Green's directorial debut "Changeland" in 2017, per People. Of the then-new relationship, Culkin told Esquire that he couldn't believe his luck, while Song is equally smitten, telling Us Weekly, "everything's wonderful and I'm happy."

Per Esquire, the couple welcomed their first child, Dakota, in 2021. The youngster is named after Culkin's sister, who tragically died in 2008 after being hit by a vehicle, aged just 29. In 2022, People reported that the happy couple got engaged. Song discussed how Mack sweetly dotes on her since welcoming their baby. "I'll be putting my son down and my partner is like, 'Let me feed the animals and get dinner ready,'" she told The Cut.

Macaulay Culkin has certainly come a long way since that frustrated little boy who was forced to do press junkets and perform without cue cards. Now, he is living his truth, which means eschewing the fame and riches of a Hollywood ending. But this isn't Mack's ending; it's his beginning.