Brad Renfro and the Smirk

Brad Renfro Onlook

Brad Renfro on a Patio

The Rebel

Brad Renfro as Huck Finn


Bradley Barron Renfro (July 25, 1982 – January 15, 2008), billed as Brad Renfro, was an American actor. He made his film debut in 1994 in the title role of The Client. He acted in 21 films, several short films, and one television episode during his career. Much of his later career was marred by a pattern of substance abuse. He died January 15, 2008 from an overdose of heroin.

After a night with a friend admitting to drug use and a life in distress as well another friend ditching me, I tried to sleep in a duck taped chair in a trailer park home of a friend of one of the frends in trouble, who was a man I had just met and I awoke before the sunrse the next day and fled a night of the trials of youth only to wonder into a grocery store. In a dark hour of my youth, I passed the magazine rack only to see a par of brown eyes looking at me. The eyes were ofan image of Brad Renfro, a young actor who had just had his debut in a film about a boy in trouble.

The Jagged Youth

Brad Renfro would go on to appear in twenty-one films n his fifteen year career, several short films and in one telivison episode before he would die, long before his time. He was southern born in Knoxville, Tennessee to Angela and Marke Renfro, who were seperated when Brad was five and thus Renfro would be raised by his paternal grandother, Joanne Barron Renfro.

Renfro was discovered by Mali Finn, a casting director for Joel Schumacher, when Renfro was ten. His only previous acting experience was as a dealer in an anti-drugs workshop school production. Cast by Finn for Schumacher's The Client, Renfro acted alongside with Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones. Based on the bestselling John Grisham novel, it became one of the top-grossing films of 1994. In 1995, he won Hollywood Reporter's "Young Star" award, and was nominated as one of People's "Top 30 Under 30".

I do know for sure why but among the films I adored as a youth, Renfro's role as wild child Huck Finn caugt my eye and made me smile in 1995's Tom and Huck with Jonathan Taylor Thomas. He also won a second "Young Star" award, as well as the "Young Artist" award, for his performance in The Cure. In the Cure, about two boys searching for the cure of AIDS, from which one of them is suffering.

In 1996, he was cast as the younger character played by Brad Pitt in Sleepers, based on the novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra. The film was directed by Barry Levinson and also starred Robert De Niro, Kevin Bacon and Dustin Hoffman.


There was a theme in some of his choices of characters. In 1998, he starred opposite Ian McKellen in Apt Pupil, directed by Bryan Singer. The film was mentioned in XY Magazine for its portrayal of Renfro's character as a closeted gay teengager. In a scene where Renfo's character is about to have oral sex with agirl, he has to stop because he not 'in the mood', this was then rebutted by the girl that 'he may not like girls.'

That same year, he played Leon S. Kennedy in a live-action preview of Resident Evil 2. Renfro went on to act in other films, including 2001's Ghost World.

In 2001's Happy Campers, it was a almost shining star of light hearted comedy in Renfro's dramatic career, a film about college freshman and summer camp for kids. Young freshmen, free from home and let the sexual underlining humor reign. When the rule-enforcing camp director at Camp Bleeding Dove gets struck by lightning, the counselors find themselves in sole charge of their campers, and themselves. The diverse group of college freshmen counselors create a camp experience that their campers will never forget. When Renfro's character Wichita is not knocking boots and sparring sexual games with the leading female character, he is joking with and teasing with Keram Malicki-Sanchez as the seemingly only gay counselor, Jasper, who is determined to have his way with Wachita.

From the rebel of his character in The Client, his protective and helping character in The Cure, his innoscent to victimized character in Sleepers to his complex and almost dominating character over Ian McKellan's character in Apt Pupil, Renfro was not shying away from risky parts and he went on to be in Larry Clark's Bully. Artist Larry Clark, who is best known for the movie Kids and his photography book Tulsa, had in his third film actors such as Michael Pitt (who would later play the Kurt Cobain like character in Last Days), Nick Stahl and Brad Renfro,

Based on the 1993 murder of Bobby Kent, the plot of Bully follows several young adults in Southern Florida who enact a murder plot against a mutual friend in revenge for his continual abuse and psychological torture of others. In a Graphic Design course in college, my instructor was a Larry Clark fan, one of a few small aspects in my knowledge of media that came to my salvation becuase I knew of Clark, through being a fan of Renfro, and that was a saving fact in that I had the same instructor the term before for lettering, of which I was horrble at.

In 2002's Confessions of an American Girl he played a gay teenager. He also appeared in an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent and completed filming on the unreleased film The Informers, co-starring Mickey Rourke, Winona Ryder and Billy Bob Thornton.
Renfro was the cousin of Jesse Hasek, lead singer of the band 10 Years, and was featured in the first version of their video for the song "Wasteland". He fathered a son named Yamato Renfro, born in 2003. The boy lives in Japan with his mother.

Arrest and rehabilitation

In December 2005, he was arrested by LAPD officers during an undercover drug sweep of downtown's skid row and was charged with attempted possession of heroin. A photograph showing him in handcuffs made the front page of the Los Angeles Times. Renfro admitted to a detective that he was using heroin and methadone. In court, he pleaded guilty to the charges, and was sentenced to three years' probation. In 2006, he spent 10 days in jail for convictions of driving while under the influence and attempted heroin possession.

He was a passionate young man but he had troubles and demons unknown to many and drugs perhaps helped him when nothing else did. When I had heard of his troubles, I worried for him and was scared that another of my idols in my youth had fallen on dark days and only hoped he would find a light.

Like Cobain, like Pheonix, Brad Renfo was becoming a doomed angel. He played so many sesnitive and vunrulble caracters, some that I could dentify with and yet he was all the long as vulneralble as he had been on the screen.

Death of an Teen Idol

On the local news, I overheard as I walked passed my TV that a 'former teen idol had died.' That evening, on my computer, I had read that Brad Renfro had in fact died of a drug overdose. I would of watched the local news if I had known it was in fact Renfro that had died but it passed and like a flash, like most of the teen idols that had come before and after Renfro, he was all but forgotten as another former teen idol was lost to drugs. A week later, CNN and all of the news broadcasts would be all but overwelmed with coverage of another actor's death, Heath Ledger, and Renfro woud be burried even more in the minds of Hollywood but that was not as I had feared..

His body was returned to East Tennessee, where he was buried on January 22, 2008 north of Knoxville, at Red House Cemetery in the small community of Blaine.

Less than two weeks later, his grandmother Joanne (who had raised him and accompanied him regularly during his early acting career) died at her home at the age of 76. Local officials stated that she died of natural causes.

Mark Foster of Foster the People was Renfro's roommate and wrote a song about his death called "Downtown." In 2012, actor and artist James Franco had the word "Brad" tattooed to his right arm in memory of Renfro, the documentation of which was included along with a small mirror emblazoned with the text "Brad Forever" as the 14th Edition of the art periodical, The Thing Quarterly. Franco also produced a limited edition series of switchblades bearing the words "Renfro" and "Forever."

He was an actor, a troubled young man and among my many portraits, he was always a challenge to capture on paper. It was odd because he was a handsome man but his face was complex and maybe it was more to do with who he was and not what he looked like.

In many ways, I had feared for him as human and like many before him, another teen idol had died. In the bookcase, among so much clutter and memories I had drawn in my 2008 self portrait, I added an angel, a tangled and troubled soul. I was halfway through the insanely detailed and complex portrait of stuff around me that I consdered to represent me when I had heard of Renfro's passing and when I sat at my draftsman table, I just placed my head aganst the hard surface and sighed. In the back, along wth Cobain and Pheonix, Brad Renfo was in angel form and lost to us all.


Year Film Role
1994 The Client Mark Sway
1995 Tom and Huck Huckleberry Finn
  The Cure Erik


Young Michael Sullivan

(older part played by Brad Pitt)

Telling Lies in America
Karchy Jonas
1998 Apt Pupil Todd Bowden
1999 2 Little, 2 Late Jimmy Walsh
2000 Skipped Parts Dothan Talbot
2001 The Theory of the Leisure Class Billy
  Happy Campers Wichita
  Bully Marty Puccio
  Tart William Sellers
  Ghost World Josh
2002 American Girl Jay Grubb
  Deuces Wild Bobby
2003 The Job Troy Riverside
2004 Hollywood Flies Jamie
  Mummy an' the Armadillo Wyatte
2005 The Jacket The Stranger
2006 10th and Wolf Vincent
2009 The Informers


Sir Ian McKellan and Brad Renfro in "Apt Pupil"


Brad Renfro, Nick Stahl and Michael Pitt in Larry Clark's "Bully"

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