Celebrity families

The dramatic life of the Culkin family: a father who squandered his children's fortune and the tragic deaths of two sisters


Since the debut of 'Succession', Kieran Culkin has been on fire. Despite working with his brother Macaulay in 'Home Alone', his name remained in the shadow of the movie's protagonist for years

Kieran Culkin at the 'Succession' season 4 premiere in New York in March 2023.
Kieran Culkin at the 'Succession' season 4 premiere in March.SHUTTERSTOCK

Ever since Succession premiered, Kieran Culkin (41) has been on a winning streak. In just a few weeks, he has won the Golden Globe, the Screen Actors Guild Award, and the Emmy for Best Actor, and it seems like this is just the beginning. Despite working with his brother Macaulay (44) in Home Alone (1990), Kieran's name remained in the shadows of the movie's lead, who received his Hollywood Walk of Fame star in early December, for years.

However, the Culkin family has faced a series of hardships and tragedies that have shown them the darker side of success. Kieran and Macaulay have six other siblings: Shane (48), Dakota, Quinn (39), Christian (36), Rory (34), and stepsister Jennifer. From childhood, they were destined to be actors, a decision unilaterally made by their father, Kit Culkin (79), who had worked on Broadway with Richard Burton and Sir John Gielgud. His sister, Bonnie Bedelia (75), achieved stardom in the late '80s with Die Hard (1988) alongside Bruce Willis (68). The family patriarch made all the decisions, leaving his 'wife,' Patricia Brentrup, in the shadows.

Before Macaulay landed the lead role in the Home Alone franchise, the Culkin family faced serious financial difficulties. For instance, Macaulay used to crawl under theater seats to collect coins that fell from people's pockets. At the age of 10, he earned $100,000 for starring in Home Alone, and after its success, he became the highest-paid child actor in the industry, earning a million dollars for My Girl the following year and another $4.5 million for Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992). And that's when the problems began.

The Culkin patriarch began squandering the fortune, leading to legal battles over mismanagement and embezzlement. In his memoirs, Macaulay confessed to being mentally and physically abused, addressing his father in a published letter, saying, "It didn't have to be this way. We could have stayed poor. You taught me what it was to be afraid... You hurt a lot of people."

In a WTF podcast interview with Marc Maron five years ago, Macaulay opened up about traveling "across the country locked up; I spent time locked in a room with a man who didn't like me. He was a bad man, a person violent both emotionally and physically. He was a bad guy, a bully. He was a very complicated person." This situation led to Macaulay emancipating himself before reaching adulthood. Kieran affirmed this many years later to The Hollywood Reporter, stating that his father "wasn't a good person and probably wasn't a good father... I didn't have the same crazy, negative, horrible, and traumatic experiences as a child actor."

The matter reached the courts because the father was ruining his most famous son. In 1995, the situation became so untenable that Patricia, the family's matriarch, won custody of all her children. She took on the responsibility of protecting and guiding them. Her actions were acknowledged in Kieran's Emmy acceptance speech: "Thank you for giving me life and my childhood, which was great. So, thank you for that." The worst tragedies were yet to unfold.

In 1998, the family's apartment caught fire, causing the death of several neighbors and injuring several firefighters. It was rumored that Macaulay had issues with drugs, and indeed, he was arrested on occasion. However, he addressed the matter in an Esquire magazine interview, explaining that he did use drugs for a while, but he never needed to enter a detox clinic. Jennifer, his stepsister, did pass away from a drug overdose in 2000. Eight years later, his sister Dakota died at the age of 29 after being hit by a car.