Biography of Tatum O'Neal, Youngest Oscar Winner Ever

The highs and lows of a life in the spotlight

Tatum O'Neal
Tatum O'Neal. FilmMagic  

Tatum O’Neal is the daughter of actor Ryan O’Neal and actress Joanna Moore. She is an American actress, author, and podcast host who has lived a life that’s probably orders of magnitude more interesting than the average, a life that has included an Academy Award, a successful acting career, drug addiction, physical and emotional abuse, and some of the most high-profile relationships of the 1970s through the 1990s.

Early Life

O’Neal was born in 1963 in Los Angeles, California. Her father, Ryan, was already an established actor working in television, and her mother, Joanna Moore, was an actress with a long list of film and television credits. Her parents had a second child, her brother Griffin, and then divorced in 1967 when Tatum was just 4 years old.

O’Neal and her brother lived with their mother at a run-down ranch house, where she alleges she was physically abused by one of her mother’s boyfriends. She went to live with her father when she was 8, but describes a less-than idyllic life dealing with his unpredictable temper.

Entertainment Career

O’Neal began working on the film Paper Moon in 1972 when she was 9 years old, acting opposite her father, who starred. When the film was released, however, Tatum’s performance stole the spotlight from Ryan O'Neal and earned her rave reviews. The toast of Hollywood, O’Neal accompanied her father to glitzy events and parties, and became the youngest person to ever win a competitive Oscar when she won for Best Supporting Actress (she also won a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year).

O’Neal attended the Academy Awards without her father. Later, when O'Neal was 16, Ryan left her and her brother to fend for themselves in order to move in with Farrah Fawcett. Between the years of 1973 and 1981, O’Neal appeared in seven films, including The Bad News Bears, International Velvet, and Little Darlings.

However, as O’Neal matured, her career slowed down, and in the 1980s and 1990s she worked infrequently in smaller roles, and didn’t act at all between 1996 and 2002. Then in the early 2000s she began enjoying a career renaissance, appearing steadily in guest roles on television, most notably on the series Rescue Me, and small supporting roles in films such as The Runaways, This is 40, and God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness. In 2006, she competed on Dancing with the Stars, but was eliminated in week two. She joined Entertainment Tonight to provide commentary and coverage for the rest of the season.

O’Neal has authored two memoirs, A Paper Life and Found, which focuses on her up-and-down relationship with her father.

In 2018, O’Neal began hosting a new podcast, Tatum, Verbatim, which can be listened to on iTunes. She spends many of the podcast episodes discussing aspects of her experience, including drug addiction, growing up in Hollywood with famous parents, her own children, and her estranged father.

Drug Addiction, Arrest, and Rehabilitation

O’Neal has struggled for most of her life with drug addiction. After her divorce from McEnroe, she descended into heroin addiction that saw her lose custody of their children to him. She worked at recovery and got clean in 1999.

In 2008, however, O’Neal was arrested in New York City for trying to purchase cocaine and was found to be in possession of both crack and powder cocaine. After another stint in rehab, O’Neal seemed to be doing better, then voluntarily checked herself into rehab again in 2012, admitting to a cocaine relapse. She has been clean ever since.

Relationships and Sexuality

O’Neal has had some extremely high-profile relationships. In the late 1970s, she dated Michael Jackson, who once described her as his first true love and accused her of pressuring him to have sex—something O’Neal has denied. In 1986 she married tennis star John McEnroe and had three children with him; they divorced in 1994.

When O’Neal turned 50, she admitted to an evolution in her sexuality, announcing that she was dating women almost exclusively despite a history of relationships with men. O’Neal rejects labels, however, insisting that she is not “one or the other.”

Tatum O’Neal Fast Facts

  • Born: 1964, Los Angeles, California
  • Parents: Ryan O’Neal and Joanna Moore
  • Occupation: Entertainer
  • Major Roles: Paper Moon, The Bad News Bears, Nickelodeon, International Velvet, Little Darlings, Basquiat, Sex and the City, Rescue Me, Wicked Wicked Games, This is 40, The Runaways, God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness.
  • Spouse: John McEnroe (1986-1994)
  • Children: Kevin McEnroe, Sean McEnroe, Emily McEnroe
  • Awards: Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Paper Moon, 1973; Golden Globe Most Promising Newcomer - Female, Paper Moon, 1973.
  • Quotes: “It’s easy to become embittered. It’s easy to cover up the embitterment with a ton of alcohol and a ton of drugs. But I choose to do what I feel comfortable with. And for me, I know what I’m the best at. And it’s acting.”
  • “I think my dad got sick of being the caretaker. I think he wanted his own life and his own career and his own stuff. I'm over it now. I wasn't for a while. He's never really forgiven me for talking about it. I hope one day he will be able to let us be close again. It breaks my heart, actually.”