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Leif Garrett
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Leif Garrett

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Singer and actor Leif Garrett rose to fame in the 1970s as one of the era's most popular teen idols.

Who Is Leif Garrett?

Leif Garrett started acting when he was five years old. He made his feature film debut in 1969's Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Garrett also appeared in 1973's Walking Tall. Two years later, he starred in the short-lived TV series Three for the Road. Garrett launched his music career in 1977 with such hit singles as "Surfin' U.S.A." and "Runaround Sue." The following year, he had his biggest song of his career, "I Was Made for Dancing." Garrett's most recent album is 2007's Three Sides of . . .. In 2010, Garrett went public with his long battle with substance abuse on Celebrity Rehab.

Early Life and Career

Singer and actor Leif Garrett was born on November 8, 1961, in Hollywood, California. Born to show business parents, Garrett got into acting at an early age. He started working around the age of 5 and made his film debut a few years later in the hit comedy Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) in an uncredited part. Garrett’s next notable film role was in the southern action drama Walking Tall (1973) as one of the children of Buford Pusser, the film’s crusading lawman. His sister Dawn Lyn also had a role in the film as one of Pusser’s other children.

On television, Garrett landed several guest starring roles, appearing in episodes of Nanny and the Professor, Family Affair, and Gunsmoke. He starred in the adventure series Three for the Road as the son of a freelance photographer (Alex Rocco) who accompanied his father on his different assignments along with his brother (Vincent Van Patten) in 1975. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled after only a few months on the air. This disappointment did little hamper his career. He remained in demand, appearing such films as Macon County Line (1974) and Walking Tall, Part 2 (1975) around that same time.

Music Career: Songs and Albums

While he was a popular young actor, Garrett also wanted to sing. He signed a deal with Atlantic Records in 1977 and released his first album that same year. Scoring hits with covers of the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and Dion’s “Runaround Sue,” Garrett soon developed a huge following among young teenage girls. Pictures of the 16-year-old star were often featured in fan magazines, such as Tiger Beat, 16, and Teen Beat. His next album for Atlantic, Can’t Explain (1978) featured more 1960s rock covers, including The Who’s “I Can’t Explain.”

Moving to the Scotti Brothers record label, Garrett went for a more contemporary sound—disco. He scored his biggest hit to date with “I Was Made for Dancing” off of Feel the Need (1978), which did well domestically and internationally. In addition to his success as a singer, he continued to act. Garrett had a recurring role on the domestic drama Family in 1978 as Kristy McNichol’s boyfriend. He also starred in Skateboard: The Movie (1978).

Off screen, Garrett was on a path for self-destruction. He has said that he started using drugs when he was 14. By the age of 17, Garrett’s partying ways caught up with him. He was high when he crashed his car, leaving his passenger and best friend Roland Winkler, in a wheelchair for life. A legal battle ensued between Garrett and Winkler, which was later settled. Garrett’s guilt over the incident, however, haunted him for years.

Branching Out

Despite his personal problems, Garrett released two more albums, Same Goes for You (1979) and My Movie of You (1981). He also made several film appearances, most notably Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders (1983). By the end of the decade, however, Garrett had all but disappeared. He later told the Los Angeles Times that “I made a point of stepping away from it for a while, from all of the hoopla because the glare was too bright. It was too much.”

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In the late 1990s, Garrett resurfaced on the series 8-Track Flashback on the cable music channel VH-1, replacing another teen heartthrob David Cassidy as host. VH-1 went on to feature Garrett in a 1999 episode of its Behind the Music series. The show included a reunion between Garrett and his former friend Winkler who told Garrett that he had forgiven him for the accident. Seemingly sober, Garrett talked about how he conquered his heroin addiction on the program. His addiction got the better of him shortly after the episode aired when he was arrested in Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park for trying to buy drugs from uncover officers.

Around this time, Garrett also released his latest music effort as part of a group called Godspeed. They only recorded a handful of tracks before splitting up in 1999. After that, Garrett joined up with grunge pioneers The Melvins briefly. He even did the vocals for their cover of the Nirvana hit, “Smells like Teen Spirit,” on their album The Crybaby. Later, Garrett formed the hard rock band F8 and took an active role behind the scenes, writing most of the group’s songs.

Recent Years

Displaying a sense of humor, Garrett appeared as himself in Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (2003), with David Spade in the lead role. The film also had appearances by Danny Bonaduce from The Partridge Family and Barry Williams from The Brady Bunch. He explained his participation in the project to the Los Angeles Times: “You should be able to poke a certain amount of fun at yourself.” Later in that same interview, Garrett expressed no regret about being a child star. “I would actually do it again. It is such a rare thing to be able to do it. Obviously, you wish you had the information you had now.”

After another drug arrest in 2004, Garrett continued to pursue his music. He released a single called “Betty Ford For Xmas” with the Crush-Ups that same year. Giving reality television a try, Garrett appeared on several shows including Star DatesThe 70’s House and Celebrity Fear Factor.

In 2006, Garrett was arrested again in Los Angeles. He was stopped by police officers for trying to ride the LA subway without a ticket and then the officers discovered that Garrett was in possession of heroin. Weeks later, he decided to enter a live-in drug rehabilitation program after deciding he needed more care than his outpatient treatment could provide. He remained optimistic about his future after his arrest, telling USA Today that “I’m an ex-heroin addict. I know I can beat it. I have to.”

After rehab, Garrett has made a few television appearances. He also released a solo album, Three Sides of . . ., in 2007, which featured a re-recording of his biggest hit, “I Was Made for Dancin’.” In 2010, Garrett shared his struggle with substance abuse with the public as a participant in the reality series Celebrity Rehab. He then continued to pursue his music, releasing the single "Everything" that same year. Garrett also made a guest appearance on Tantric's 2013 album 37 Channels.

In August 2013, Garrett offered his hard-earned wisdom to one of today's teen idols Justin Bieber. "Do not believe your own publicity," Garrett advised the young pop star, in an interview with "Sussing out who your real friends are is full-time work. Every scum bag, every drug dealer, every chicken hawk wants a piece of you." Garrett himself knows well how challenging it can be to gain fame so young. "When you’ve got that sort of power at that young age," Garrett said, "and everything at your doorstep, you put out that bad boy image. At that age, testosterone, hormones, all of the money, you see what else you can get away with."

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