The John Connor Curse: Nick Stahl, Edward Furlong and Christian Bale
Actor Nick Stahl, best known for portraying John Connor in the 2003 film Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, has been missing since May 9. Is every actor who plays the role doomed? By Marlow Stern. Plus, read Chris Lee and Christine Pelisek on how the search for Stahl has turned to Skid Row.
Known for playing damaged characters onscreen, actor Nick Stahl, 32, has been missing since May 9, according to his estranged wife Rose Murphy Stahl.
Murphy-Stahl, who separated from her actor-husband in January after nearly two-and-a-half years of marriage, took five days to report him missing. The couple has a tumultuous history: Court documents obtained by The Daily Beast reveal the actor’s visitations with the couple’s two-year-old daughter, Marlo, were ordered monitored by a professional, and Stahl was forced to submit to testing proving he hadn’t used marijuana, cocaine, or alcohol in the 24 hours preceding the toddler’s visit. His former spouse also alleges the actor had been frequenting Los Angeles’s notorious Skid Row to score hard drugs.
“She admitted that he had gone to Skid Row [in the past]. He goes off for days at a time,” Det. Carmine Sasso, the officer in charge of the LAPD’s adult missing person’s unit, told The Daily Beast. “We are getting the information out to our patrol officers where Nick might frequent. We are trying to locate him.”
The whole episode sounds eerily similar to that which befell his Bully co-star, the late Brad Renfro. On December 23, 2005, LAPD officers arrested Renfro during an undercover drug sweep of Skid Row. Upon his arrest, the actor admitted to detectives that he had been using heroin and methadone. Renfro was eventually found dead at the age of 25 in his Los Angeles apartment on January 15, 2008, from a heroin overdose. Though he was cruelly snubbed by the Oscars’ In Memoriam tribute, Renfro’s former roommate, Mark Foster of Foster the People, honored the late actor in the band’s song “Downtown.”
But the disappearance of Stahl, best known for playing John Connor in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, also serves as further evidence of a very disturbing trend: all the actors who have portrayed the fictional rebel hero in the Terminator films seem to experience great misfortune.
Edward Furlong was the first actor to step into the shoes of Connor in James Cameron’s 1991 film Terminator 2: Judgment Day, cast at the tender age of 13. The role was Furlong’s film debut, and for his performance as the wisecracking future savior of the human race, he took home the 1992 MTV Movie Award for Best Breakthrough Performance. Just two months after the film opened, however, a custody battle ensued for Furlong between his aunt and uncle, who he’d been living with, and his mother. His aunt and uncle gained legal guardianship of the young actor in September 1991, until Furlong’s mother successfully regained her parental rights in 1993. But Furlong became legally emancipated that same year, at the age of 16.
He continued acting through the ‘90s, but after a pair of impressive performances in 1998’s American History X and 1999’s Detroit Rock City, things went south for the actor. After a brief fling with Paris Hilton, on April 24, 2001, Furlong was found at The Whisky on Sunset Boulevard lying in his own vomit. He was rushed to Cedars Sinai Medical Center with a suspected heroin overdose. Later that same year, on September 25, 2001, he was arrested twice in the same day for driving infractions—driving without a license and DUI. But the most bizarre brush with the law came three years later in 2004 when Furlong was arrested for public intoxication after the animal rights activist was drunkenly “liberating” live lobsters from a Meijer grocery store in Florence, Kentucky.
The drama seemed to die down in 2006, when he married actress Rachael Bella, and welcomed the birth of their son, Ethan Page Furlong. In a 2006 interview with PEOPLE, a sober Furlong said, “I don't even think about [partying] anymore. It seems lonely now: running and clubbing and doing coke. I have nightmares about doing hard drugs. I'll wake up and I'm like, ‘Did I relapse?’” Then, on July 8, 2009, Bella filed for divorce from Furlong. The next year, she was granted a restraining order against the actor and, according to The Wrap, submitted a series of incriminating texts and voicemails from the actor saying he would “hire people to beat me with chains and bats,” and also claiming Furlong “admitted to me that he hit Ethan in his testicles to teach him a lesson.” The actor was then arrested on January 11, 2010, for violating the terms of the restraining order. And the coup de grace: on January 11, 2011, the actor told the court he was “completely broke” and could no longer afford to pay child support, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Thomas Dekker portrayed John Connor on the highly anticipated Fox TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. The show debuted on January 13, 2008, but was officially canceled on May 18, 2009, amid dwindling ratings. Just months after the cancellation, Dekker was arrested on October 15, 2009, when he struck a 17-year-old cyclist with his vehicle on a freeway onramp. He was originally charged with two counts of felony DUI, but it was reduced to misdemeanor reckless driving when it was discovered that the cyclist was culpable.
In perhaps the most widely-known incident, during the filming of 2009’s Terminator Salvation, Christian Bale—who played Connor—became so enraged with director of photography Shane Hurlbut that he went on an expletive-filled tirade. The outburst was caught on tape and went viral.
Which brings us to Nick Stahl. After making his feature film debut at the age of 13 opposite Mel Gibson in 1993’s The Man Without a Face, the actor gained acclaim in his early twenties, with riveting performances as a murdered son in In the Bedroom, and a sadistic tormentor in Bully, both released in 2001. After a grueling audition process, Stahl beat out Shane West and Jake Gyllenhaal for the coveted role of John Connor in 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines—his most high-profile role. Later, he’d captivate audiences as a fugitive with healing powers in the short-lived, albeit critically acclaimed, HBO drama Carnivale, as well as a serial child-killer in Robert Rodriguez’s 2005 neo-noir Sin City.
Despite his noticeable talent and impressive resume, the movie roles dried up for Stahl in recent years, relegating him to direct-to-DVD horror fare like Mirrors 2 and Dead Awake. He opened up about his struggle to secure roles in 2008 with The Hollywood Interview :
“What gets really hard to deal with sometimes, when it comes to the politics of the town—and by that, I mean if someone has a lot of popularity in the moment, they’ll just get offered something for that reason… But if I’m not able to even read, to even go in on something, that’s hard to deal with. Because if I’m up against someone who’s genuinely better for the role, that’s great, I can totally deal with that, that’s fine. It’s the lack of opportunity that’s really hard to deal with sometimes. Its just part of the business end of things, which has never been my strength.”
In a strange incident back in January, Stahl was arrested for stiffing a cab driver in Los Angeles on his $84 bill. The next time Stahl made news was when his ex-wife reported him missing just four months later.