Tatum O’ Neal seemed to have the world in the palm of her hand when she won an Academy Award at 10 for “Paper Moon.” However, her life was filled with far more hardships than one might have expected.
Actress Tatum O’Neal’s life has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs, from her childhood into her marriage with tennis legend John McEnroe to her adult relationships with her father and children.
At ten years old, the former child actress was a bright star when she became the youngest person to win an Academy Award for her role in “Paper Moon.” She starred as Addie Loggins alongside her father, Ryan O’Neal, in the movie.
Despite their onscreen success, O’Neal has detailed that their actual relationship was fraught with emotional abuse and arguments from childhood into her adult life.
Ryan has spoken out about his daughter throughout the years. Even discussing the negative impact her achievement had on the rest of the family:
“Everybody hated everybody because of that Academy Award.”
According to the actor, the award brought resentment and jealousy into the family. But it was the family’s tendency to addiction that caused significant damage to the family network.
Like O’Neal’s mother, Joanna Moore, she struggled with addiction to various substances for most of her young life. Her mother’s substance choice was alcohol mainly.
O”Neal’s struggles with substances started early life. At 16 years old her father left her and her brother so he could live with his girlfriend Farrah Fawcett.
Alone and with a tendency to struggle with addiction, O’Neal fell into a habit of using drugs. However, she would only realize she was an addict after developing a romantic relationship with McEnroe.
Like many people in the 80s, McEnroe was a recreational drug user and had a stash of drugs in a safe for when he had guests over.
When O’Neal was alone in his New York apartment, she would do all of McEnroe’s drugs. She soon realized their usage of drugs was different. As she told NBC News during an interview:
“And that’s sort of when I realized that I would do drugs alone. I didn’t need anyone to do them with me. That I was a drug addict.”
When McEnroe would come home, his famous temper would flare up. However, O’Neal explained that McEnroe thought her problems would be fixed if she got pregnant because he believed she would stop using drugs.
For a short time, he was right. O’Neal stayed sober throughout all of her three pregnancies. She told NBC that she did not want to be “this crazy mother” like her mother.
Unfortunately, her drug addictions would catch up to her. After welcoming her three children, Kevin, Sean, and Emily, McEnroe became resentful that she did not entirely focus on him and even blamed her for his losses.
She soon realized that the man she married was a lot like her own father, as the abuse she had endured while growing up was now coming from McEnroe.
Their six-year marriage would finally end during a confrontation which O’Neal said, in her book, became violent. During the argument, he pushed her, which caused her to fall down the staircase.
Although many might think that leaving her abusive relationship with McEnroe would be a step in the right direction, for O’Neal, it became a catalyst for her addiction to start up again.
The former couple divorced in 1993 and agreed to share custody of their children. With the loneliness of not having McEnroe and her children around, O’Neal found herself falling into her old ways.
Finding her life dramatically spinning out of control, O’Neal tried to seek help, and in 1994 she checked herself in for a drug detox at New York’s Beth Israel hospital.
Two years later, she went to rehab at Hazelden in Minnesota, but she would relapse again. In 1998, her youngest, Emily, then seven years old, found a syringe (used for drugs) inside of her mother’s apartment.
Following that incident, McEnroe was given full custody of her children. Her life began to mirror that of her mothers because, similarly, O’Neal’s addictions caused her to lose custody of her children.
She was granted supervised visitation, and McEnroe insisted she was drug tested before seeing her children. O’Neal wrote of the situation:
“I had to endure the indignity of supervised visits with John controlling the schedule.”
For the next couple of years, O’Neal continued to struggle with her addiction. In 2001 she hit rock bottom as she explained she was using drugs almost all of the time.
In 2004, O’Neal told NBC that after encouragement from her brother and a few tender words from her son, she was able to get clean and sober.
However, O’Neal’s struggles would continue to plague her life. In 2008, she was arrested for “disorderly conduct.” She told People it was the last time she used hard drugs:
“That was the last time I tried to get hard drugs. I felt very ashamed and embarrassed. I’m just glad that my kids forgave me.”
Throughout her hardships, O’Neal faced it all alone as her relationship with her father was estranged, and the two went through years of trying to repair it.
After many years of no contact, O’Neal and Ryan were reconnected following Fawcett’s death in 2009. Finally, after 20 years of pain and bitterness, the father and daughter met up.
At a Malibu restaurant, over a two-hour lunch, the two were able to talk. O’Neal told People that her father apologized to her and she wanted to work on their relationship because:
“He’s all I have in terms of family, and I needed him in my life. My dad was absolutely everything to me.”
Shortly after the reunion, they appeared in an eight-part docu-series for the Oprah Winfrey Network to rebuild their relationship. It documented their attempt to work through their estrangement.
However, Ryan once publicly stated that after the reality show, the father and daughter relationship was not any better than before. Ryan told the TV Guide:
“In fact we’re further apart now than when we started the show. So thanks, Oprah, for all your help.”
Despite Ryan’s previous feelings about the show and the ups and downs O’Neal and her father have gone through, much of which was played out in the media, the two seem to have finally reconciled.
In 2020, O’Neal’s son, Sean, now 32 years old, posted a family picture with his siblings, 56-year-old mother, and 79-year-old grandfather. The family was last together in 2003, for the 30th anniversary of “Paper Moon.”
Sean wrote of his gratitude that his family members were still alive and able to be together. He joked that if the O’Neals were able to reconcile despite the wildfires that were happening at the time, then anything was possible.
Although O’Neal lived a difficult life filled with addiction and strained relationships, she is now living a clean life, is focused on family life, and is in a 12 step program.