He was a teen idol during the 1970’s. Every young girl wanted his pictures in magazines like Teen Beat. He was a child actor who continued acting into his twenties. He was also a rock star. Problems with drugs led him down the wrong path and into legal trouble for decades. Yet, Leif Garrett rebounded several times over the past few decades with music, acting and satirizing his problems with the law. This year, Garrett published his autobiography “Idol Truth”. Whatever happened to Leif Garrett?
Early Life and Career
Leif Garrett was born on November 8, 1961 in Hollywood, California. His dad Rik Nervik wasn’t around much while Leif was growing up. He lived with his mom, Carolyn Steller, and sister, Dawn Lyn. When Leif was just 5 years old he started acting, co-starring with his sister in movies including the horror film “Devil Times Five” and on the television show “Gunsmoke”. In 1969 Leif played the young boy Jimmy Henderson in “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice”. During the 1970’s Leif appeared in three “Walking Tall” films, played the son of Felix Unger (Tony Randall) on “The Odd Couple” series, and had a recurring role on the series “Family”.
Established as a child and later a teenage actor, Lief Garrett got noticed when he appeared in the CBS miniseries “Three For the Road” in 1975. The 12 week series was about a father and his two sons grieving over the loss of their mother. They sell their horse for an RV and travel the United States. Fans noticed the good looking Garrett and he became a teen idol sensation. Garrett would go on to star on television and film. He had the title role in the television movie “Peter Lundy and the Medicie Hat Stallion” and had other roles on television and film. Garrett would later appear in the movie 1978’s “Skateboard” and The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. He would continue to appear as a guest star on television shows including “CHIPs” and “Wonder Women”. He dated actresses Kristy McNicol, Tatum O’Neal and Justine Bateman. Garret had a six year relationship with actress Nicollette Sheridan.
Along side his acting career, Leif Garrett had a successful career as a pop, disco and rock star. He signed a contract with a five record deal with Atlantic Records in 1976. He covered songs including “Surfin USA”, “Runaround Sue”, and “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” as well as recording his own music on the B sides of the records. In 1978 Garrett signed with Scotti Brothers Records. He recorded with the label through the early 1980’s. In May of 1979, Garrett hosted a television special “Lief” which included appearances by Marie Osmond, Brooke Shields, Flip Wilson and Bob Hope. Unfortunately, tragedy would strike Garrett later that year.
Unfortunately, Lief Garrett got involved with drugs starting when he was just 14 years old. On November 3, 1979, tragedy struck. Garrett was driving his mother’s Porcshe and crashed the car. He was found to be intoxicated and had taken quaaludes. His best friend and passenger, Roland Winkler, was paralyzed in the accident. Garrett was tried in juvenile court and received one year probation and one year license suspension. Winkler would sue the insurance company and ended up receiving a $6 million settlement in 1987. Garrett had to pay $15,000 in punitive damages and would feel guilty about the accident for the rest of his life. Winkler and Garrett reunited on a 1999 episode of “Behind the Music”. Garrett was relieved to find that Winkler did not carry a grudge. Winkler died in 2017.
Drugs and Bankruptcy
Since his 1979 car accident, Lief Garrett has continued to struggle with drug addiction which cost him what could have been a successful acting and music career. Garrett continued to act periodically through the 1980’s but his music career fizzled out. He continued to struggle with drugs. In 1997 Garrett was arrested for possession of cocaine, and in 1999 he was arrested when trying to buy cocaine and heroine from an undercover police officer. He continued to have legal troubles through the 2000’s. He was arrested for possession in 2004, 2006 and in 2010 and was ordered into drug rehab a few times. In 2001 Garrett filed for bankruptcy in Los Angeles, California.
Return to Acting and Music
Despite his ongoing struggle with drugs and money, Garrett has continued to appear on television specials, usually parodying his legal battles. He’s also returned to music. In 1999 Garrett formed a band with three other musicians called Godspeed. They made a 3 song EP and performed a few times. Garrett formed his own record label, Tounge in Groove. He co-wrote and recorded a song for the soundtrack of David Spade’s 2003 movie “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star”. Garrett appeared in the movie as himself. In 2006 Lief Garrett performed in a Las Vegas show “Original Idols Live!”. The retro act also featured 1970’s teen idols Tony DiFranco, Danny Bonaduci and The Bay City Rollers. In 2010 Garrett toured South Korea celebrating the 30th anniversary of his first tour in the country. He returned in 2013. In the meantime, Garrett collaborated with punk rock artist Craig Else. They released a couple of songs and covered “Old Man” by Neil Young.
As for his acting career, Lief Garrett made a bit of a comeback making fun of his once teen idol status. He hosted VH1’s series “The Lief Garrett Collection”. He appeared on an episode of “Fear Factor” and won $50,000. Garrett appeared on CMT’s “Ty Murray’s Celebrity Bull Riding Challenge” and TrueTV’s “The Smoking Gun Presents: World’s Dumbest” parodying his past legal problems. In 2010 Garrett publicly addressed his addiction to heroine by appearing in the fourth season of “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew”. His mother and sister even made an appearance on the show addressing the issue. Garrett also has done some serious acting. He starred in a 2000 production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” did summer stock theater in 2001 at The Barn Theatre.
What he’s up to now
Lief Garrett continues to work on his music but hasn’t acted much during the last decade. This year he published his autobiography “Idol Truth” (ttps://aux.avclub.com/former-heartthrob-leif-garrett-recounts-his-wild-downfa-1839548684). In the book, Garrett tells of his sudden rise to stardom as a teen idol and all the glamour and loneliness and isolation that came with it as he was led around by handlers. He goes into detail of about the good times and the instant fall from grace following his 1979 car accident and his ensuing drug and money problems. It’s a sad story about a young man who became one of the most popular stars in the world at a very young age and lost what could have been at still a young age.