LOS ANGELES: Justin Bieber is the latest in a long line of troubled former child stars to veer off the rails. The question now is can those around him save the teen from a complete train wreck? And if so, how?
A spell in rehab? A tough-love crackdown by his management or family? It remains to be seen if the latest brushes with the law will prove a wake-up call for the 19-year-old Canadian heartthrob.
“You have a teenager with unlimited funds, unlimited fame, and very limited mentorship/parenting,” said former prosecutor Michael Grieco, who is also a city commissioner in Miami Beach, where Bieber was arrested last week.
“I have represented my share of people that live in a world with seemingly no consequences, and it is very hard to get them to deal with the world that the rest of us live in,” he told AFP.
For those who follow Bieber’s antics closely, his arrest in Miami Beach and assault charges in Toronto — within the space of less than a week — are hardly surprising.
Tabloid media have for months chronicled his repeated run-ins with police and neighbors in and around the plush mansion where he lives in Calabasas, northwest of Los Angeles.
The singer has also found himself in trouble with authorities in Australia and Brazil for spraying graffiti. In Brazil, Bieber was photographed emerging under a blanket from a notorious Rio brothel.
But unlike similar America hell-raisers, the Canadian could in theory be booted out of the United States, where he has made his career.
On Thursday a public petition on the White House website passed 200,000 signatures, twice the threshold to merit an official response.
“We would like to see the dangerous, reckless, destructive and drug-abusing Justin Bieber deported,” it said.
That came after he was charged on January 23 with driving under the influence after police caught him allegedly drag racing in Miami Beach, Florida.
Then on Wednesday he was charged with assaulting a limousine driver in Canada, after turning himself in at a Toronto police station with a crowd of female fans screaming their support.
Bieber is following in the footsteps of the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, “Home Alone” star Macaulay Culkin, Demi Lovato and more recently “High School Musical” heartthrob Zac Efron.
Michael Jackson was another child star who patently struggled to make the transition to the grown-up world.
Bieber — a global star who has over 49 million Twitter followers — seemed to compare himself to Jackson last week, in an Instagram posted after he was charged in Miami.
The post showed Bieber in a dark hoodie, waving outside jail, alongside an image of Jackson a decade ago when the King of Pop was fighting child molestation charges.
“What more can they say,” read the caption. Media reports said Bieber’s father Jeremy — who split from the star’s mother when he was just a baby — was involved in the alleged drag racing.
‘Seen this movie before’
Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper said Bieber’s troubles can “be read as an indictment of modern permissive parenting; a cautionary tale about a fatherless upbringing in a single-mom home.”
And while young celebrities have always behaved badly on occasion, social media means that every mis-step is played out under an unrelenting public spotlight.
“If I were his manager, my temptation would be to just send Justin to his room for three months,” said Robert Thompson, a professor of pop culture at Syracuse University.
“The problem is… there’s 400 paparazzi outside his room taking pictures, not to mention he’s tweeting from his room.”
Grieco agreed, saying: “Twitter and other instant access social media outlets have contributed to a new type of celebrity frenzy, but the celebrities themselves are frequently large contributors to the problem.
“I would try to keep my client off Twitter and Instagram for a while and lay low.”
Celebrity news site TMZ reported Bieber wants to move out of his gated community — where Jackson’s family also lives — to an area where there are no “rules and regulations and nosy neighbors.”
Whatever happens, the story will inevitably run and run. “You couldn’t write a better drama. There is innocence. There is pathos. There is suspense. There is tragedy,” said the Globe and Mail.
Grieco said he has few doubts about how it will turn out. “Maybe Justin will surprise us, but if history has anything to say about it, I doubt it.
“We have seen this movie before.”