(CNN)Actress Drew Barrymore was 14 when she found herself in front of a judge, asking to be emancipated.
In her memoir, “Wildflower,” Barrymore recounted that the moment had come because she and her mother, who was in support of the move, “had driven our relationship into the ground.”
At the end of a day of testimony, she recalled, the judge looked at her and cautioned, “I can turn the clock forward, but I can never turn it back. Are you ready for that?”
She was and, just like that, became an adult in the eyes of the state, and, in Hollywood, another entry for the “VIP v parent” files.
Circumstances differ from person to person, but it’s a lesson learned over and over again: family, fame and fortune can be highly combustible combination.
“Families are ripe territory for sensitive privacy issues and reputational requirements and the stars of the silver screen, the stage and the stadium have family members like we mere mortals,” Amber Melville-Brown, a New York-based partner and global head of media and reputation at Withersworldwide, an international law firm. “Throw in large amounts of money, a dash or two of ego, a pinch of jealousy and a power struggle all carried out under the spotlight of the media, or the threat of publicity, and you have a heady mix.”
This, of course, is a situation playing out in real-time with Britney Spears, who on Wednesday delivered troubling testimony as she attempts to end a court-ordered conservatorship in place for nearly 13 years and overseen for most of that time by her father, Jamie. Her words were alarming and painted a picture of someone — a woman, a mother, and, she reminded the judge, a daughter — in deep peril.
“I cried on the phone for an hour, and he loved every minute of it,” Spears said in her testimony, describing when she learned she was being forced to attend an expensive rehab program. “The control he had over someone as powerful as me — he loved the control to hurt his own daughter, 100,000%. He loved it.”
Though situations involving minors are often what first comes to mind when thinking about stars who part ways with their parents (e.g.: Corey Feldman and Ariel Winter, both emancipated at 15), that is not always the case.
Back in 2006, Backstreet Boy Nick Carter and brother Aaron Carter opened up about their familial falling out with their mother, Jane, in an interview with ABC’s “20/20.” The singers said they felt their mother was more focused on managing than parenting.
“I think, mainly what we’re saying now, is that we were starved for that attention, of a motherly figure,” Nick Carter, then 25, said in the interview. (Aaron Carter would go on to appear with his mother on a WEtv reality series, attempting to address their fractured relationship.)
It can be a tricky balance. But Kris Jenner, who literally trademarked the term “momager,” said in the recent “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” reunion special, that it was her role as mother that made her a stronger manager.
“I think when it’s your child, you go over and above anything that would be required of you if you were just a proper person getting a typical paycheck,” she said.
Her famous daughters agreed.
“Our mom works so hard and no one, especially at the beginning, did believe in us the way that our mom did,” Khloe Kardashian said.
Melville-Brown acknowledged that some families “work exceptionally well” together, but “professional advisers can provide a distance and clarity of thought away from the heat of the beating family heart, to allow decisions to be made by a cooler head.”
“Blood can be thicker than water, but it can also be hotter than water, and when a dispute bubbles up family members may be too close to the situation, too fogged up in the emotion to be able clearly to see the way out,” she said.
Spears made it clear in her testimony that her freedom — not repairing family bonds — is her priority. And though she may desire to turn back the clock in some regards, what lies ahead can be bright.
“Spears is an icon with a fan base so loyal that they may well through their vocal campaigns have served to boost her confidence sufficiently to give her the courage to speak out,” Melville-Brown said, making reference to the #FreeBritney movement. “We don’t know the truth of the sensational claims made and indeed many of them are denied on both sides. But her currency is unlikely harmed by these highly publicized events, and more likely enhanced by them.”