Macaulay Culkin and Paris Jackson didn’t just start hanging out this week.
But now everyone happens to be extra interested because Culkin cut his hair and he’s holding his own against his model goddaughter in the camera-loves-me department. And that’s exciting for people because the 36-year-old actor/musician/curiosity has been in the public eye for so long, he’s one of those celebrities you realize you’ve been rooting for, perhaps for most of your life.
Culkin, meanwhile, has definitely been rooting for Paris for the entirety of her life.
The former child star’s friendship with Michael Jacksonwas one of the big question marks of the 1990s, considering the 22-year age gap between the Home Alone star and the King of Pop. But they were close enough that Jackson asked Culkin to be Paris’ godfather. She was born in 1998, when the actor was 17.
Culkin himself acknowledged that their relationship was “unique,” saying as much on the witness stand when he testified on Jackson’s behalf at the singer’s 2005 trial on child molestation charges.
“He was very childlike. He liked doing the things we [kids] did,” Culkin testified about how the singer would interact with him and other children, including his younger brother Kieran Culkin, at Neverland Ranch. “He played with us.” Having Jackson identify with him as a child star was “comforting,” Culkin said.
Most of the time he spent there was before the age of 14, he said, after which he had moved away from L.A. and didn’t return to Neverland until he was 17.
Overall, he testified that Jackson never abused him, nor did he witness any such behavior on Jackson’s part.
Jackson was acquitted of all charges but the accusations and civil lawsuits would shadow him for the rest of his life. Only since his death in 2009 has the overarching conversation about his legacy been allowed to focus more on his music again.
Culkin attended Jackson’s funeral in Glendale, Calif., along with his then-girlfriend Mila Kunis.
It’s no wonder Paris—now 19 and charting her own course as an actress and model, simultaneously trying to maintain a closeness with her famous name and family while also distancing herself as any strong young woman with her own ambitions would—has in recent years found a confidante in Culkin.
Not only does he understand the strangeness of growing up in the most glaring kind of spotlight, but he was close to her beloved father. And he was extremely loyal to Jackson, in life and in death.
“He’s a good friend of mine, and he still is,” Culkin said on Larry King Live in 2004. “Everything that’s going on, it’s unfortunate. It’s an unfortunate situation for everyone involved.”
The actor first met Jackson when the singer came backstage after a production of The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center in which Culkin played Fritz. Sometime later, after he became a huge star thanks to Home Alone, Jackson called him up and invited him to hang out at Neverland.
“Nothing happened” at the house, Culkin told King. Sleeping in Jackson’s bedroom sounded shocking, he laughed, “but you have to remember, Michael Jackson’s bedroom is two stories. It has three bathrooms…You have to understand the whole scenario.
Jackson liked having him around, he said, because “I talked to him like he was a normal human being…He’s just a guy, who’s very kid-like himself.”
20th Century Fox
Meanwhile, the Jackson case had thrust Culkin back into the spotlight in an unpleasantly familiar way. He had taken a decade-long break from Hollywood, propelled in part by his parents’ nasty custody battle (over him and, as his managers, over his multimillion-dollar career) that played out so publicly in 1995, right after he made Ri¢hie Ri¢h (which turned out to be the last movie he’d make as a kid).
“The custody battle seems to be two parents fighting over a young guy’s earnings,” Home Alone director Chris Columbus told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “If I were a kid, I’d want my parents to be fighting for custody of me because they love me—not for my money. It’s a little bit depressing.”
In court documents, mom Patricia Brentrup accused Kit Culkin (they were together for 20 years but never married) of abandonment, “excessive drinking, physical abuse and unfaithful behavior.”
Dave Benett/Getty Images
The filing also expressed concern that if Kit’s antics got in the way of a movie Kieran Culkin was shooting at the time, “no one in Hollywood will want to work with our children again.” Kit’s lawyer argued that the man was a devoted father who had been a “prime force” in Macaulay’s career.
Kit had been named one of Premiere magazine’s most important people in Hollywood back in 1993. Having made $200,000 for Home Alone, Culkin was paid a reported $5 million, plus a percentage of the grosses, for the sequel, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, a deal attributed to his father’s negotiating prowess. The film made almost $200 million in the U.S.
Meanwhile, all of the custody drama was unfolding at the most inopportune of times. Culkin was 15—an awkward enough age for anyone, much less for a still baby-faced star whose career to date had been built playing the cute little kid and whose future in Hollywood was in doubt (partly, according to the LA Times, due to his dad’s insistence that he play the bad seed in The Good Son, an against-type role that was meant to showcase what a versatile actor he was).
He had plenty of support among filmmakers who had worked with him, but Macaulay packed it in at 15 and went back to New York. His mother was awarded primary custody of him and his minor siblings.
As of last year, Culkin, one of seven children, remained estranged from his father.
“We went through the hungry years, the struggling, and when we became successful I thought we’d just sit back, enjoy it and relax,'” Brentrup, who along with her husband had taken 15 percent of Macaulay’s earnings as co-managers, told The Telegraph in 1996. “Instead, we were happier living hand-to-mouth, and that’s what’s so hard. We don’t get to enjoy what the whole family worked for together.”
Francis Apesteguy/Getty Images
According to reports, Macaulay had about $17 million in the bank at the time and he wanted permission to use $2 million for school tuition, legal fees and to buy a new NYC apartment for his mom and siblings. He also successfully managed to bar his father from any access to his fortune.
So while he ostensibly left Hollywood to live out the rest of his childhood in a more “normal” fashion, Culkin was forced to grow up when he was still a kid—much as Paris Jackson would be forced to do years later.
Perhaps he had designs on having a “normal” family of his own, too, when he married Rachel Miner when he was 17, but they were divorced three years later.
Ironically, Macaulay would eventually prove he could act without the aid of slapstick or the catchphrase “aaaaaaaaah,” but he had already been saddled with the “former child star” tag—meaning everything he did seemed to get filed away as a stab at recapturing the magic of the 1990s.
But fans were still happy to see him.
He did theater in London’s West End in 2002, had a scene-stealing cameo on Will & Grace as a purposely young-looking divorce attorney and got back into film with 2003’s Party Animal, aggressively venturing into new character waters as a murderous party promoter.
“To a lot of people, I still am that kid,” Culkin told New York Magazine in 2006. “It’s a blessing and a curse. I can go to any restaurant without a reservation, but while I’m there, everyone’s gonna be staring.”
At the time he had penned a book called Junior, about a former child star who had gone off the rails. “Yes, it’s me—but no it isn’t, you know?” he said.
The Jackson case once again made him the center of attention for less desirable reasons, but then Macaulay won raves for his role in the quirky indie comedy Saved! with Mandy Moore. Still, the acting jobs were few and far between. He scored a lead role on the short-lived drama Kings in 2009, but otherwise he was left plenty of time to focus on music, art and other side projects.
But then again, if he had wanted to work more, maybe he would have.
He told New York he led a “simple, simple life” and acknowledged he was “not exactly the hardest-working actor.”
He was also in a relationship with Mila Kunis from 2002 until 2011, though often from afar as she was based in L.A. while he lived primarily in New York. The two have respectfully not said much about those days, but in 2015 Kunis briefly acknowledged, when asked during an interview with Howard Stern, the trouble Culkin had with his parents.
Eventually, poking fun at preconceived notions of character, such as Neil Patrick Harrisplaying a high-as-a-kite version of himself in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, became the thing—and Culkin did that with his voicing of “Kevin McAllister” on the Adult Swim series Robot Chicken.
The short film “Macaulay Culkin Eating a Slice of Pizza,” directed by the star himself, was a surprise sensation in 2013, despite the lukewarm reception to his side project, comedy-rock band The Pizza Underground. Most recently he played a NYC barista version of himself on The Jim Gaffigan Show, and had a cameo in Zoolander 2. In 2015 he and Ryan Gosling near-melted the Internet when Gosling wore a Kevin McAllister T-shirt, and Culkin stepped out in a T-shirt with an image of Gosling wearing the Kevin shirt, after which Gosling wore a shirt with a pic of Culkin wearing the Gosling shirt.
Ryan Gosling + Macaulay Culkin forever could possibly be the best GIF ever. pic.twitter.com/wRPiYDq6Ao
— brodiewest (@brodiewest) July 14, 2014
Home Alone 2: $5 million. Having a forever place in pop culture: priceless.
Though it’s been almost 27 years since Home Alone and by now Culkin has lived more than half of his life not being a child star, interest in his well-being and fascination as to what he’s been up to has never ceased.
Before the notion of satirizing his lot in life appealed to him, Culkin treated his days of child stardom like they happened to somebody else (though, sense of humor aside, that’s still his favored approach).
“I really disassociated myself from ‘Macaulay Culkin’ mentally,” he told New York in 2006. “Like, if someone actually calls out that name on the street, I don’t turn my head. Literally. When I was 14 and I quit, I said I’m never doing that again—say whatever you want about me. That I’m crazy, that I’m an alcoholic. Call me a drug addict. I don’t give a s–t anymore. That’s not me anymore. That’s for you. It’s yours. Go ahead, have fun.”
Occasional pictures of him looking skinny or with shaggier-than-usual hair have prompted speculation about his health over the years, But despite an arrest for marijuana possession in 2004, Culkin hasn’t publicly engaged in the sort of self-destructive behavior that so many other “former child stars” seem to stumble into.
“You know, I am a former child actor,” he joked to New York. “I’m supposed to be a lot more f–ked up than I am. I took a certain amount of pride that I wasn’t that cliché, so it was, like, Oh, great, I gave a lot of people exactly what they wanted.“
In 2012 his rep slammed a National Enquirer report that he was battling heroin and prescription drug addiction, calling the story “impossibly and ridiculously fictitious.”
He quipped in that 2006 interview that he had a lot of “growing down” to do, seeing as how he’d already made millions, married, divorced, learned how to read legal documents and seen his parents fight tooth and nail in court by the time he was 20.
Dabbling in acting, forming a band, painting… perhaps Culkin really has just been making up for lost adolescent time—or at least he’s been granting himself a leisurely amount of time to figure out what he really wants to do.
“People feel they have to be in perpetual motion, or drown,” Culkin, having just starred in “Compare the Meerkat,” an ad campaign for the U.K./Australia service CompareTheMarket.com, told The Guardian last year. “I’ve never had a problem saying I’ve got nothing lined up. Maybe I’ll take the next year off.”
He shrugged, “I’m not much active. If I knew what I wanted to do, I’d be writing it myself.”
As for his continued lack of interest in the fame part of the showbiz game, he said, “I don’t just turn my back [on the spotlight], I actively don’t want it. The paps go after me because I don’t whore myself out.”
“It’s been like that my whole adult life,” he continued. “You take on a prey-like attitude, always scanning the horizon. It’s strange on dates, as it looks like you’re not paying attention. But I’ve stopped trying to think of myself in the third person, because that’s just gonna drive me nuts.”
Asked about those pernicious drug rumors, he cryptically said that people did “not necessarily” have a reason to be concerned.
“Of course, when silly stuff is going on—but no, I was not pounding six grand of heroin every month or whatever. The thing that bugged me was tabloids wrapping it all in this weird guise of concern. No, you’re trying to shift papers.”
Still, be it due to concern or clickbait, color the world intrigued when he was spotted last week with a spiffy shorter haircut and a little more meat on his bones.
The photo went viral and, boom, internet boyfriend material—though seemingly you’d have to have been alive when Home Alone came out in 1988 to really appreciate a pic of Culkin no longer carrying the trappings of scrawny boyhood around with him.
Culkin has also been spending time with his goddaughter again. He made a couple of appearances on Paris Jackson’s Instagram account last year, but they just went over the weekend to get matching tattoos, Paris being a known ink enthusiast.
With Paris establishing herself as a bona fide It Girl this year, landing on covers of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue Australia, her solo star is on the rise. So who better than her wise-beyond-his-years godfather to help keep her grounded—and to be there for the peaks and valleys that being a celebrity since before you even knew what the word means inevitably brings.
We bet Michael Jackson would be happy to know they have each other.