Adam Rich, Child Star on ‘Eight Is Enough,’ Dies at 54

Adam Rich, a former child actor who starred in the hit television series “Eight Is Enough” in the 1970s and ’80s, then dropped out of show business, dealt with serious depression and later re-emerged as a commentator on mental health, died on Saturday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 54.

Danny Deraney, Mr. Rich’s publicist, confirmed the death. The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner did not immediately list a cause on its website.

“Eight Is Enough,” combining gentle comedy with moments of drama, aired on ABC from 1977 to 1981. Dick Van Patten played Tom Bradford, a newspaper columnist with eight children, with Mr. Rich as the youngest of the brood, Nicholas. His helmet of shiny golden brown hair and innocent demeanor won him the affection of the audience.

The show, set in Sacramento and based on a memoir by Tom Braden, a newspaperman with eight children, depicted genuine family drama, like the death of the children’s mother (played by Diana Hyland) from cancer after only four episodes. (The father later remarries.) But “Eight Is Enough” more often concerned everyday matters. In one episode, a minor-league baseball player whom Nicholas looks up to becomes attracted to one of his older sisters.

In 1977, The New York Times wrote that “Eight Is Enough” was one of “the better productions” on television and a major factor in ABC’s becoming “the new prime time champion.”

A 1991 profile of Mr. Rich in People magazine called him an “audience favorite” and quoted Mr. Van Patten as describing his “magnetism” as an actor.

Yet, as Mr. Rich said in a YouTube interview posted in 2021, he came to resent the typecasting parts available to him on TV compared with meatier roles being offered to other actors around his age, like River Phoenix.

Mr. Rich, by his own account, was drinking and experimenting with drugs before he turned 13. In 1986, he dropped out of Chatsworth High School in California, where he had studied acting. He stopped accepting job offers and would tell his agent, “I’m on vacation,” People magazine wrote.

In 1991, Mr. Rich was arrested on suspicion of smashing the window of a Los Angeles pharmacy with a tire iron and slipping inside to steal morphine, People reported. Prosecutors said that moments earlier he had been denied painkillers at a nearby hospital emergency room.

Mr. Rich called Mr. Van Patten, his TV father, who posted bail, but within 24 hours Mr. Rich was arrested again, charged with shoplifting sunglasses and socks from a department store.

By the time he was 22, Mr. Rich had been in rehab five times. An overdose put him in a coma for two weeks. In the press, he was often grouped together with other sitcom child stars who as adults had spun into drug use and petty crime.

In 2000, Mr. Rich appeared in several scenes of Dave Eggers’s popular memoir “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.” In one passage, Mr. Eggers describes the uncanny experience of seeing Mr. Rich, whom he considered a celebrity, working the room in a dingy San Francisco nightclub.

Recalling his youth, Mr. Rich described his heedless philosophy of life at the time in an interview with People: “Yesterday’s a canceled check, and tomorrow’s a promissory note, but today is cash. Today is all you can really bank on.”

Adam Rich was born on Oct. 12, 1968, in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. His mother, Francine, acted as “the enforcer” during Adam’s child acting days, Mr. Rich said; his father, Robert, was a mechanic for the Ford Motor Company. The family moved to California during Adam’s early childhood. He soon began acting and became a popular choice for commercials.

Information about his survivors was not immediately available.

Mr. Rich was in his early 30s when he began treatment for depression. He struggled to find the right medication, but in 2020 he began posting about mental health on Twitter, where he gained a modest following.

In the YouTube interview, he emphasized that clinical depression was not a mood but an illness that could be traced to brain chemistry.

“I feel like this disease may kill me,” he said, “but I feel like if I’m going out, I want to go out sort of fighting for somebody that may come behind me.”

Christine Chung contributed reporting.

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