Most of us know Drew Barrymore from her child-star roles E.T. and Firestarter. Some of us know her for her wild-child roles like Poison Ivy. All of us know her for her rom-com roles like The Wedding Singer and Never Been Kissed.
But there was a period of about 3-4 years in Drew Barrymore’s life where she had vanished from Hollywood. When she was very young — ages 9-13, or so — Barrymore was a disaster. She went to clubs with her Mom. She did a stint in rehab. She couldn’t get a job.
That’s when her mother, who basically made her the way she was, put her in a mental institution for a year and a half, as she tells The Guardian in an interview promoting her new book, Wildflower.
My mom locked me up in an institution. Boo hoo! But it did give an amazing discipline. It was like serious recruitment training and boot camp, and it was horrible and dark and very long-lived, a year and a half, but I needed it. I needed that whole insane discipline. My life was not normal. I was not a kid in school with normal circumstances. There was something very abnormal, and I needed some severe shift.”
Could you leave or did you have to stay?
“Oh yeah. No getting out for a year and a half.”
Was there any warning from your mother that this was coming?
“No, no, no. I would have run away. I would never, never have let that happen to myself.”
Did she come and visit?
“Yeah, occasionally. Occasionally.”
It’s a disturbing story. She talks about life in the dormitories, how she is still friends with one girl who “is kooky, but great”, how they tried to drug her and she resisted. “I was like, no, thank you. I wanted to clean out. I didn’t want to be a cliche.”
Did you ever think you were mentally ill? “No. No. I just knew that I was off course.”
Did the doctors say what they thought was wrong? She giggles. “Oh, they definitely thought I was off course!”
It was after being locked away that Drew Barrymore sought to be legally emancipated from her parents, including her famous father, John Barrymore, who eventually drank himself to death. In fact, it was the mental institution that encouraged her to break ties with her parents. At the age of 14, she moved into an apartment by herself. She was an “unemployable disaster” and ended up working odd jobs as a waitress and cleaning toilets, until her career finally rebounded, beginning with her Playboy cover and Poison Ivy. She started Flower Films at the age of 20, made Never Been Kissed at 23, and the rest is history.