Actor James Franco caught the attention of his fans recently, after he had the name “Brad Renfro” carved into his arm with a switchblade. Subsequently, Franco has designed and sold a set of limited-edition switchblades, each bearing the inscription, “Brad Renfro Forever”. In Franco’s opinion, this is a fitting tribute to one of his dear friends – and many would agree.
Brad Renfro was born in Knoxville, TN, where he was raised by his grandmother. In 1993, Renfro was discovered by a talent scout, and was cast in a pivotal supporting role in Joel Schumacher’s adaptation of John Grisham’s The Client. Playing alongside such seasoned actors as Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon, Renfro held his own in a memorable performance that garnered much attention and praise from critics.
Over the next few years, he was cast in several notable roles in films such as The Cure, Tom and Huck, Telling Lies in America, Apt Pupil, Ghost World, and Larry Clark’s controversial revenge drama, Bully. He was a natural who had a commanding screen presence. He wasn’t afraid to take risks, which explains the challenging indie films that appear in his filmography.
As time went on, Renfro began to struggle with substance abuse, and his many run-ins with the police began to show up in editorials and magazines, as the industry shrugged him off as yet another lost soul. Despite his afflictions, Renfro continued to work, turning up in The Jacket, alongside Adrian Brody, as well as The Informers, starring Billy Bob Thornton and Mickey Rourke.
Tragically, Renfro died of a heroin overdose in 2008 at the age of 25, alone in his apartment. While his fans mourned the loss, the news of his death was largely ignored by Hollywood – as evidenced by his absence during the “In Memoriam” montage at the Oscars that year. The snub did not go unnoticed.
Brad Renfro was incredibly versatile, carefully picking his projects, always bringing his best to every role. Renowned actor, Ian McKellan, said of him, “He was a kid having fun and that’s how I shall always remember him. But he was more than that. He was a proper actor and when we worked together he was determined to be accepted as such. He longed to belong in the alien world which perhaps in the end overwhelmed him. He was only 25 and it is dreadful we shan’t see all that he might have achieved.”
During his funeral, his great uncle was quick to remind friends and family that Brad was finally at peace. “Brad had a personal faith in Jesus Christ. Brad had problems just like I have problems, just like you have problems, just like all of us have trials and tribulations that we go through. And I’m gonna see him again. Oh, what a reunion.”
In the days surrounding his death, director Joel Schumacher was devastated. “I sometimes think the only people who think they’re really talented are the ones I know who aren’t. I think that Brad was always gifted with great looks and an incredible ability to tap into his complex emotions from a very early age as an artist.”
Actress Susan Sarandon spoke out as well. “I had the pleasure of working with Brad when he was eleven in The Client. It was obvious to everyone that he was the sweetest, most incredibly gifted young actor to come along for some time.”
Five years have passed since Brad Renfro left this world, and James Franco seems determined to make sure that his memory lives on – hence the commemoratory switchblade performance. In an interview with Laurel Nakadate, Franco had this to say: “I feel like remembering Brad needed something this strong, because in my mind he was so violently forgotten. One of the other things that kicked it off is he wasn’t mentioned at the Oscars the year that he died. So I took the switchblade idea and I took it one step farther.”
Here’s hoping that the world will remember Brad Renfro for years to come. He was truly one of the greatest actors of his generation.