The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Macaulay Culkin

Macaulay Culkin may always be identified as the adorable, burglar-busting star of "Home Alone" protecting his family home. The iconic, beloved Christmas film was released more than 30 years ago, and yet the actor really hasn't had a more memorable role than that precocious kid, Kevin McCallister. 

Culkin, who became a mega movie star at the age of 10, struggled for many years living in the spotlight and more as he tried to live outside of it. You've probably read the tabloid headlines about him. You may have seen the endless string of Twitter memes. He's been the butt of countless jokes, and he can yuck it up with the best of them. 

But when the cameras aren't rolling, Culkin's life has been filled with disappointment, heartbreak, and tragedy. So forget what you may have heard or what you think you know about the elusive star. We are here to set the record straight about all of it. So, grab your popcorn and keep the tissues handy. This story will not have a Hollywood ending. 

Macaulay Culkin's parents pinched pennies

Macaulay Culkin and his six siblings grew up in a cramped New York City apartment, with all seven kids sharing bunk beds in one room. "It was basically one long hallway separated by doorways with no doors," he told New York Magazine. "I guess we couldn't afford doors or something." His mom, Patricia Brentrup, worked at "at a telephone answering service for a theatrical casting agency," while his father, Kit, worked at a Catholic church so the kids could go to school there for free, according to Kieran Culkin's account in The Hollywood Reporter.

Billy Hopkins, the New York casting director who gave Macaulay his first part, told New York Magazine, "They were so poor ... Macaulay would crawl under the bleachers at the theater to look for change that had fallen out of people's pockets." Hopkins, who described the family "like the Beverly Hillbillies" added he would pay out of his own pocket to get Macaulay get back and forth from rehearsals.

Macaulay's dad, a child actor himself, saw an opportunity to capitalize on his kids and became their full-time manager, according to The Telegraph. Macaulay told Joe Rogan he didn't really have a say about his own career. "I never chose the projects. My parents essentially chose them for me." Rogan responded by jokingly imitating Culkin's parents, "Good news, Macaulay, you're gonna buy us a new house!"

Macaulay Culkin's dad 'was abusive'

Kit Culkin worked his child star son really hard, but Macaulay's problems with his father went much deeper than that. He told Marc Maron's "WTF" podcast his dad "was a bad man ... He was abusive, physically and mentally ... You know, I can show you all my scars if you want to." Kit, who had a reputation as a manipulative manager in Hollywood (via The Telegraph), was the same way with his son. Macaulay told CNN, Kit was "very controlling ... he played games with you, just to make sure you were still in your place."

Macaulay wasn't the only target of Kit's wrath. Patricia claimed he was often drunk and punched her repeatedly while she was pregnant. One time, she told The Telegraph, "He punched me in the head and about the body ... dragged me out to the balcony, threatening to push me over the railing ... I suffered two black eyes and substantial bruising."

She filed for sole custody of the children and in 1997, she won, per UPI. Macaulay has been estranged from his father ever since, but Kit Culkin never felt like a real dad to him in the first place. "My concept of a father, almost, is one of those things you get from like TV shows and movies."

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.

Kieran Culkin said Macaulay was 'harassed on the street' as a child

Macaulay Culkin's younger brother Kieran grew up on movie sets, but told The Hollywood Reporter he didn't experience the level of harassment Macaulay did as a child. "He would get harassed on the street," the "Succession" star said. "One time, a woman pulled off his hat and looked at him and said, 'Yeah, it's him! You're not that cute.' And then handed the hat back and walked away."

Macaulay's hassles didn't stop as he grew older. This is a guy who admitted as a kid, "I was a bit of an attention wh**e. 'Hey, I'm a kid, look at me!," he told Esquire. In a 2016 interview with The Guardian, he said he was done with all that attention. "I don't just turn my back [on it]. I actively don't want it." Macaulay, who avoided much of the harassment while living in Paris, said that the flashing cameras in his face never stopped.

"The other day – I'd crossed the wrong street ... suddenly there's a crush of 20 paparazzi. Then people with cameraphones get involved." When asked if it's changed over time, he replied, "It's been like that my whole adult life. You take on a prey-like attitude, always scanning the horizon."

Macaulay Culkin's movie career took a nosedive

Macauley Culkin followed up on his "Home Alone" momentum with successful turns in the 1991 fan favorite "My Girl" and the 1992 sequel "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York." By all accounts, 1994 should have been a great year for the teenage star, but it ended up being quite the opposite.

"Getting Even with Dad" was a big disappointment at the box office. It wasn't just producers who were unamused by this comedy's performance, critics were lining up to give it the old thumbs down as well. Roger Ebert singled out Culkin's performance, writing, "I wasn't much moved by Macaulay Culkin's performance as the smart little waif." Lesley Thornton of the Independent wrote, "Macaulay Culkin is getting on a bit for a child star, but shows no sign of turning into a young actor in 'Getting Even With Dad.'"

Unfortunately, "Richie Rich" didn't fare much better, and the reviews weren't kind to Culkin, the titular star. "Culkin looks really bored. Maybe because 'Richie Rich' is so damn boring," wrote Felix Vazquez Jr. of Cinema Crazed. Chris Hicks of Deseret News took it even further, writing, "Anyone out there who is still a Macaulay Culkin fan after this one is downright masochistic." Culkin made $16 million dollars on these two films alone, according to Celebrity Net Worth. The question was, did he have a future as an actor after this?

Macauley Culkin took a break from acting

Looking back on his childhood, Macauley Culkin told New York Magazine he remembered one day telling his father he wanted to work less. "He said, 'Yeah, sure,' and the next thing I knew I was on the next set doing the next thing, and it just kind of clicked in my brain: 'Okay. There's basically nothing I can do to make this stop."

In 1994, Culkin quit acting when he was 14. In a 2004 interview with Spin, he explained that he told everyone in his circle he was cutting them off — from his cash. "That's it, no more, hope you all made your money because there is no more coming from here." On "The Early Show," Culkin said, "I was so tired. I had wanted a break for a long time and no one was listening. When I was in a position where I could walk away, I just did." In a 2001 interview with Time, Culkin explained, "I was just hoping to disappear off the face of the earth."

Culkin also recalled wanting a more normal childhood and begging his dad to let him go back to school. "I was saying 'I haven't done a full year of school since first grade," he told Esquire. This request, like many others, fell on deaf ears. Culkin decided he would start a new chapter of his life and just be a normal kid in high school. At least, that was the plan.

He married a girl who dumped him three times

On the first day of school, Macauley Culkin met "Guiding Light" actor Rachel Miner. He told New York Magazine, "She always says she thought I was a jerk." When Miner first introduced herself, Culkin replied, "Yeah, welcome to the school,' or whatever. She thought I was such a jerk for not saying, 'And my name is Mack.'" Culkin said they dated just four times before they walked down the aisle in 1998. They were both only 17 years old.

"She'd broken up with me three times before, and so the last time we were going out I said, 'Marry me now before you dump me again," he added. "What can I say? She was my girl." After two years of marriage, per ABC News, the couple announced they were separating. Culkin admitted that his reclusive nature may have hurt the relationship. 

"I had to learn to talk and how to communicate and I should've done it more," he said. The marriage ended in divorce in 2002, per Cheat Sheet. A few years later, Culkin looked back, telling 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."

A deadly fire consumed the Culkin family's apartment

In 1998, four people died and many more were injured in a fire that started in the Culkin family's apartment. According to The New York Times, the fatalities occurred as a result of "the superheated, smoke-filled stairwell" as residents of the building tried to escape the fire. 

According to the FDNY report, Patricia Brentrup called to report that her electric heater caught fire and spread to the couch. She woke the Culkin kids and quickly whisked them out of the apartment. Brentrup said that in her rush to save her children, she neglected to shut the door, per the New York Post. The open door, according to the report, is what caused the stairwell to fill up with smoke. 

Macauley, who was not living in the apartment when it happened, told New York Magazine, "Two family friends basically broke down our front door and told us." When he saw the Culkin fire story on TV, he said, "They made it seem like I was running around the house naked spitting vodka on the walls and throwing matches everywhere. I wasn't even there." Thankful his family all made it out safely, he added, "It was awful, of course ... people died ... it was awful."

Mila Kunis has regrets about their breakup

Macaulay Culkin and Mila Kunis seemed like the perfect couple when they first linked up in 2002. The "Black Swan" star told Women's Health, "We grew up together. You find a steady rock in your life and that's all you need." She did take issue with the way fans reacted to him, telling Howard Stern, "He always had this weird attraction ... Fans responded in a very abnormal way to him."

Then in 2011, after eight years together as a couple, the "Bad Moms" star announced to Page Six they had split and it was "amicable." As it turns out, there was much more to the story. Fast forward to 2018, the "That '70s Show" star told Dax Shepard on Armchair Expert the breakup was "horrible" and it was her fault. "It's f***ed up what I did, and it's f***ed up how I did it," she said, without offering any specifics. Kunis added that she did a lot of self-reflection after the breakup. "I genuinely need to know why I did what I did." Well, Mila, we would all like to know what you did. 

Maybe the third time will be a charm for Culkin, who doesn't have the best track record when it comes to relationships. In January 2022, he announced his engagement to Disney Channel actress Brenda Song, per People. In 2021, the couple welcomed a baby boy they named Dakota Song, after Culkin's sister. In a statement obtained by Esquire, the couple said, "We're overjoyed."

Macaulay Culkin was accused of being 'hooked on heroin'

On August 1, 2012, the National Enquirer's cover story read "Macaulay Culkin Addicted To Heroin — Only 6 Months To Live!" Of course, he outlived the prediction of his impending death. Phew! Culkin's rep fired back, telling E! the story was "categorically without merit" and "ridiculously fictitious." But the National Enquirer doubled down, refusing to retract it, and adding fuel to the fire by labeling their efforts as "a dramatic and much-needed wake-up call to the 31-year-old actor."

Culkin responded in turn to The Guardian a few years later, saying "I was not pounding six grand of heroin every month or whatever," miffed that the tabloids were trying to wrap that headline up with a strange guise of concern. In his 2020 interview with Esquire, he got a little more candid on the topic of drug abuse. "I played with some fire, I guess is the best way to put it."

"At the same time, I've never been to rehab or anything like that," he said, noting that he doesn't do recreational drugs, but added, "I wouldn't be the person I am today if I hadn't had drugs in my life at some point or another." Back in 2005, Culkin pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of possession of medication without a prescription and marijuana. He was given a one-year deferred sentence, according to Today. This came after his arrest in Oklahoma City, where officers found over a half-ounce of marijuana and several Xanax tablets.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Macaulay Culkin tried his hand as an author

In 2006, Macauley Culkin published his first (and maybe his last) book. The central theme of "Junior" focuses on the main character's complicated relationship with his father, a man similar to Culkin's dad. As expected, Culkin didn't write the tell-all celebrity memoir people were expecting. In an interview with New York Magazine, Culkin explained, "In a perfect world, my name wouldn't even be on it. 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?"

The reviews for "Junior" were less than stellar. Kirkus Reviews wrote, "With this audaciously empty mishmash of poems, letters, comics, etc., former child star Culkin (of 'Home Alone' fame) has managed to lower the already low bar set for celebrity fiction." Publisher's Weekly called it a "self-indulgently infantile book," although they noted "as a calculated piece of celebrity implosion, the book is weirdly compelling."

Culkin said writing the book was like therapy, helping him grapple with the painful childhood that still haunts him to this day. "I think there's two different fathers that I have," he said. "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."

Macaulay Culkin's sister died in a tragic accident

In 2008, Macaulay's sister Dakota Culkin was hit by a car after she stepped onto a street in Los Angeles. She died later from massive head trauma, according to TMZ. Kiernan told The Hollywood Reporter in 2021, Dakota was the "funniest person in the family," adding, "Each one of us handled [her death] very differently. I think everyone was just torn up inside."

Macaulay told Esquire about his last sweet memory of his sister. It was a conversation they had on the night she died. She had watched one of his films and told him how much she liked it. "I was like, 'Thanks ... Go to sleep," he said. "And then she went out to go get some Gatorade and cigarettes, and she got hit by a car."

Dakota's friend, Andrea Poe, told People the former production assistant moved to Los Angeles to work in the film industry, "She was very low key [about her name], but at the same time proud of her siblings," adding that her friend was "very close to Macaulay. They would talk frequently on the phone or go out to eat."

Macaulay Culkin's band got booed off the stage

Macauley Culkin started a band called The Pizza Underground "as a joke" in 2102, per Philly. It's a tribute act to the Velvet Underground band — just throw in some pizza-punny lyrics, and Mack on vocals and kazoo, what could go wrong? At a concert in Nottingham Rock City, a few things did, per the Nottingham Post (via BBC). According to reports, the band was about 15 minutes into their show when they were booed off the stage and pelted with beer. "Why are you throwing those?" Culkin asked the crowd. "I'd rather drink them."

One audience member took to the group's Facebook page to rub salt into the wound. He wrote, "I'm glad I lobbed a pint and I'm glad it hit you," because he objected to the band's "mockery" of "one of the greatest bands of all time." Another concertgoer told the Nottingham Post, "It just sounds awful ... It must go down well in America or something."

Culkin told The Guardian, "It's one of those good ideas you have when you're drunk, and you wake up and forget about it. But we're taking it to the end of the joke." In 2018, Culkin decided the joke had come full circle and The Pizza Underground was officially six feet under, per Marc Maron's "WTF" podcast. That news, we suspect, was music to the ears of some listeners across the pond.