Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Laredo Tribune. Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Can't Buy Me Love
Currently Known For:
1970s - 1980s
July 8, 1971
Can't Buy Me Love
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“I just love to act. I like to get away, totally play a different character, someone you can get really involved in knowing. I’ve gotten really involved in some characters and written down little summaries of where they live and what their families are like.” Amanda Peterson launched her acting career in the late 1970s and rose to fame in 1987 for her iconic performance as Cindy Mancini in Can’t Buy Me Love. The film made her an overnight teen idol as she graced the covers of teen magazines like Teen Beat and Tiger Beat. However, she faded from the spotlight just as quickly as she found it and spent the 1990s and 2000s in and out of trouble. Then, on July 3, 2015, she was found dead of an accidental overdose just five days before her 44th birthday.
1970s to Fame
Phyllis Amanda Peterson came into this world on July 8, 1971, in Greeley, Colorado as the youngest of three children born to a doctor and his wife. Peterson got her start as an actress at a young age and was known as both “Amanda Peterson” and “Mandy Peterson” in the industry. She was seven years old when she made her theatrical debut as Gretl in a production of The Sound of Music (1978) at the University of Northern Colorado. Over the next few years, she appeared in over 50 television commercials before making her film debut as a dancer in Annie (1982).
Peterson landed guest spots in episodes of Father Murphy (1982) and Silver Spoons (1982) before she was cast as Squirt Sawyer in the short-lived drama, Boone (1983). Although the show was canceled after its first season, Peterson had her next projects lined up as she appeared in television films Best Kept Secrets (1984), And the Children Shall Lead (1985), and Carly Mills (1986). She also appeared in the 1986 miniseries A Year in the Life (1986), which was one of the top three highest-rated miniseries of the year. Peterson’s performance didn’t go unnoticed as she earned a Young Artist Award for Best Young Actress.
Following her success in A Year in the Life, Peterson landed on her feet when she was cast opposite Patrick Dempsey in a teen comedy titled Boy Rents Girl. Filmed on location in Tucson, Arizona, the film was later re-titled Can’t Buy Me Love (1987) and hit theaters in the summer of 1987. Although the film received mixed reviews from critics, audiences couldn’t get enough of the flick making Peterson and Dempsey overnight stars. Before long, Peterson earned teen idol status and graced the cover of teen magazines like Teen Beat and Tiger Beat.
The following year, Peterson starred in The Lawless Land (1988) and wrapped up the decade with credits in Listen to Me (1989) and Love and Betrayal (1989). She returned to Colorado to finish her senior year at University High School and, after graduation, made her way back to Hollywood. She made a guest appearance on Doogie Howser, M.D. (1990) and starred in a string of television films—Fatal Charm (1990), Hell Hath No Fury (1991), and Posing: Inspired by Three Real Stories (1991). She made her final acting appearance as Julie Moore in WindRunner (1994).
Retirement, Legal Troubles, and Legacy
Peterson retired from acting in 1994 and retired to Greeley where she sporadically studied at Middlebury College, Colorado State University, and the University of Northern Colorado. Although she never earned her degree, she seemed content with her life outside of Hollywood, or so it appeared. By the new millennium, however, things changed when Peterson started getting into more and more trouble. She was arrested five times between 2000 and 2012 for third-degree assault, harassment, driving while intoxicated, possession of drug paraphernalia, and suspicion of distributing a controlled substance. She spent three months in jail from September to December 2005.
Amid her legal troubles, Peterson married and had two children with her first husband, Joseph Robert Skutvik, and her second husband, David Hartley. Sadly, not even motherhood was enough for Peterson to maintain her sobriety and, by 2012, she was charged with suspicion of child abuse. Also arrested for a DUI and possession of narcotics, Peterson suffered from health issues like sleep apnea and pneumonia. By 2015, these issues were at their worst.
On July 3, 2015, Peterson’s drug addiction and health issues spiraled further out of control when her family reported her missing after she failed to show up for a scheduled family dinner. Two days later, the 43-year-old Peterson was found dead at her home. The autopsy report later confirmed that she died of an accidental overdose. Having undergone a hysterectomy in the weeks prior, Peterson self-medicated on prescribed Gabapentin and morphine, the latter of which she received from a friend. The autopsy also showed traces of anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety medications as well as opiates and marijuana.
In the months following Peterson’s death, her parents came forward to account for Peterson’s actions and share details of her life. The family sat down for an interview on The Doctors in September 2015 and revealed that Peterson was raped at the age of 15, at the height of her career. “She just felt so ashamed. She didn’t want people to know,” her mother said. “I think it affected her forever.” Her father agreed and added, “After that she became so defensive, less trusting. Some of the sparkle was gone. She did have significant bipolar problems.”
Peterson kept the assault a secret for two years. After she confessed the incident to her parents, she declined to seek justice against her attacker despite her father hiring an attorney. At one time, Peterson asked her mom to take her to a therapist, but her mom simply thought the demands of Hollywood were to blame. Beyond that, Peterson kept the incident a secret even from her sister. “She did not tell me about it,” her sister said. “She did not talk about it with anyone. I think for her to carry this secret, this burden of his assault must have been overwhelming.”
Today, Peterson’s legacy lives on through her family who is actively working to counsel people about the reality of sexual assault. “We are among perhaps millions who have gone through these problems,” her father says. “You have to be very well attuned to what your children are doing, what they’re saying. We all have to be more aware, and that doesn’t diminish your love.”