Leif Garrett

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Leif Garrett
Garrett in 2017
Garrett in 2017
Background information
Birth nameLeif Per Nervik
Born (1961-11-08) November 8, 1961 (age 62)
OriginHollywood, California, U.S.
Occupation(s)Actor, singer, television personality
Instrument(s)Vocals, guitar
Years active1966–present
Labels20th Century, Atlantic, Scotti Brothers, Tongue and Groove, Cleopatra, Golden Lane

Leif Garrett (born Leif Per Nervik; November 8, 1961) is an American singer, actor, and television personality. He worked as a child actor, then in the 1970s became famous as a teen idol in music. He later received much publicity for his drug abuse and legal troubles.

Early life[edit]

Garrett was born in Hollywood, California, to Rik Nervik and actress Carolyn Stellar,[4] and started his entertainment career at age five. His father was absent for most of his life.[5] He graduated from high school aged 15.[6]


Acting career[edit]

Garrett and his sister Dawn Lyn worked a variety of acting jobs. They co-starred in the horror movie Devil Times Five as juvenile mental patients who almost innocently go on a murder spree at an isolated ski resort. Dawn and Leif also guest-starred in an episode of Gunsmoke as well as Wonder Woman.[7]

Garrett's more notable performances include the breakthrough role of Jimmy Henderson in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969); the protagonist's son Mike Pusser from the Walking Tall movies (1973, 1975, 1977) and the recurring role of Zack Russell on the ABC TV series Family.[8] He also played the role of Leonard Unger, the son of Felix Unger (Tony Randall), on the ABC series The Odd Couple, a part that had been previously played by Willie Aames.

In late 1975, Garrett appeared in the role of Endy Karras in a 12-week CBS drama series Three for the Road, with Alex Rocco as his father, Peter Karras, and Vincent Van Patten as his older brother, John Karras.[9] Garrett's appearance in the program triggered a response from teenage girls and led to his first appearances in teenage magazines, such as Tiger Beat. Garrett also played alongside Lee Van Cleef in two Spaghetti Westerns shot mainly in Israel: Kid Vengeance [it] and God's Gun. He played the title role in the television film Peter Lundy and the Medicine Hat Stallion and also starred in the film Skateboard.[10]

In the early 1980s, Garrett returned to acting, appearing in a small role as Bob Sheldon in the 1983 Francis Ford Coppola film The Outsiders. In 1985, he starred in Thunder Alley as the lead singer of a pop band that is torn apart by drugs, and in Shaker Run as a mechanic. Other notable Garrett movies from the decade include Delta Fever and the horror film Cheerleader Camp. He played a deranged murderer who was in love with his sister in Party Line.

Music career[edit]

In late 1976, Garrett signed a five-album recording contract with Atlantic Records. In early 1977, he released a single called "Come Back When You Grow Up", and recorded his first album, Leif Garrett. The album was released in July 1977, and his first four singles charted modestly on the US Billboard Hot 100. All of these hits were covers of late 1950s and early 1960s hits such as the Dion covers "Runaround Sue" and "The Wanderer". In mid-1978, he signed with Scotti Brothers Records and recorded his second album, Feel the Need. Its first single, "I Was Made for Dancin'", reached number 10 on the US Hot 100 and number 4 on the UK Singles Chart early in 1979. It became his greatest hit in the US and the UK.[11]

Subsequent singles failed to crack the Top 20 in either country, but he continued to record, releasing the albums Same Goes For You (1979), Can't Explain (1980) and My Movie of You (1981) in quick succession. In May 1979, he hosted a TV special, Leif, with guest stars Brooke Shields, Marie Osmond, Bob Hope and Flip Wilson.[12]

In 1981, Garrett recorded "I Am a Rebel", words and music expressly composed for him by Victorio Pezzolla and produced by Richard Finch of KC and the Sunshine Band which became the theme song for an Italian TV program entitled Il Barattolo. He mostly stopped recording music in the early 1980s and concentrated on acting for the rest of the decade.[13] He later claimed the producers would not allow him to make music aimed at an adult audience when he reached his early twenties.[14] In 1986, he provided lead vocals to the song "The Way to Happiness", and backing vocals to the title track of the L. Ron Hubbard album The Road to Freedom.[citation needed]


In the mid-1990s, Garrett returned to acting and singing, appearing in the 1995 low-budget horror film Dominion, touring with the Melvins and recording vocals for their cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on The Crybaby (2000). In 1998, a greatest hits compilation, The Leif Garrett Collection, was released. Garrett, however, has stated: "My former record label was bought out. The label was started by me … meaning my music started it, funded it. And then it was bought out by some company that released the Greatest Hits Collection. Not only have I not seen any royalties from that, but they wanted me to promote it—the compensation being a couple of CDs."[15]

In the late 1990s, Garrett hosted the series 8-Track Flashback on the cable music channel VH-1, replacing fellow teen idol David Cassidy. VH-1 went on to feature Garrett in a 1999 episode of its Behind the Music series.[16]

In 1999, he formed the band Godspeed with Christopher Wade Damerst and Michael Scott (the Distortions, Deadtime Stories). They recorded a three-song EP on Garrett's own label, Tongue and Groove Records, and debuted on The Rosie O'Donnell Show, but broke up after only a few performances. O'Donnell would go on to ban him from appearing on her program.[why?]

Garrett's stage work includes playing the title role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and, in late 2000, appearing in the National Theatre of the Deaf's production of A Child's Christmas in Wales. He also appeared in summer stock at The Barn Theatre's production of Old Timer in 2001. In the same year, he voiced himself in the animated television series Family Guy episode "The Thin White Line".

In 2003, Garrett appeared as himself in the David Spade film Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. He co-wrote and sang "Former Child Star" for the film's soundtrack and was one of the singers of "Child Stars on Your Television", which played over the ending credits. He appeared with Aaron Carter in the 2005 film Popstar.


In September 2006, Garrett appeared on the celebrity edition of Fear Factor. He won the grand prize of $50,000. On New Year's Eve 2006, Garrett first appeared in Las Vegas with retro act Original Idols Live!, hosted by Barry Williams. The show also featured the Bay City Rollers, Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods, and the Cowsills, with selected appearances by Merrill Osmond, Tony DeFranco, and Danny Bonaduce.

In August 2007, Country Music Television (CMT) cast Garrett in the short-lived Ty Murray's Celebrity Bull Riding Challenge, among nine celebrities appearing on the show. However, he quit after one episode, citing soreness and lack of desire to continue.[17]

In November 2007, Garrett released the album Three Sides of..., which constituted songs he recorded with his current band F8 and his 1990s band Godspeed as well as some new songs.

In 2008, the producers of TruTV's The Smoking Gun Presents: World's Dumbest... added Garrett to their cast, which features comedic commentary from celebrities like Garrett who have had brushes with the law. Garrett has frequently spoofed his troubled past and participates in a wide variety of sketches and skits written specially for him by the show's producers. In a 2010 episode, Garrett reenacted his recent arrest with two actors, including Todd Bridges, another show regular, portraying police officers.[citation needed]

Garrett toured South Korea in May 2010, with shows in Seoul and Busan. This marked the 30th anniversary of Garrett's first performance in Korea in June 1980. He embarked on another tour of the country in 2013.

Garrett was a cast member in the fourth season of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, which documented Garrett's struggle with addiction to heroin. The season premiered December 1, 2010.[18] Garrett's sister, Dawn Lyn, and mother, Carolyn Stellar (November 6, 1934 – September 2, 2022), who was battling Stage 4 lung cancer, both appeared in Episode 7, which was filmed during Family Day, when the recovering addicts were visited by their loved ones to discuss how their addiction affected their family relationship.[4]

Garrett performing in 2016

In the early 2010s, Garrett began collaborating with punk rock artist and songwriter Craig Else. He released two singles on the Internet, sharing Else's credits, "Everything" (released in 2010) and "Help You, Make You" (released in 2012). The two also recorded a cover of Neil Young's "Old Man".

He published an autobiography entitled Idol Truth in 2019.[19] In the biography and related interviews, Garrett explained that in multiple tracks in his earlier albums, Jim Haas, actually replaced his vocals entirely. The producers had wanted him to "smooth" Garrett's uneven vocals, but made the choice sometimes to replace Garrett entirely on his own albums. In some cases, Garrett's producers even brought in Haas to sing for Garrett behind a curtain during some live concert tour performances.[20][21]

Personal life[edit]

Garrett and actress Nicollette Sheridan dated on and off for five years until 1985.[22] Garrett also dated celebrities such as his former Family co-star Kristy McNichol,[23] Tatum O'Neal, and Justine Bateman. In the 1990s, he was in a long-term relationship with actress Elaine Bilstad, who died in 1999 of a heart ailment.[citation needed]

In October 2001, Garrett was in a personal bankruptcy proceeding in a federal court in Los Angeles. Court papers stated his only regular income was a $1,000 monthly gift from his mother. His only listed possessions were his clothes, some household goods and about $350 in cash. Garrett had accumulated a $76,198 debt in unpaid credit card bills over a four-year period.[24]

Legal troubles[edit]

Garrett admitted that he started using drugs when he was 14.[16] On November 3, 1979, five days before his 18th birthday, he crashed a Porsche 914 that was being leased to his mother[25] after a midnight party while he was driving to buy more cocaine. His blood alcohol level was three times over the legal limit of that time and place,[26] and he was high on quaaludes.[27] The accident left his passenger and friend, Roland Winkler, a paraplegic.[28] Garrett had only met Winkler about a month earlier.[29] Neither Garrett nor Winkler was wearing a seatbelt. Garrett was later tried as a juvenile on drunk-driving charges; his driver's license was suspended for a year and he was placed on a year's probation.[30] Winkler sued in January 1980, claiming Garrett was at fault in the accident.[31]

In December 1984, Los Angeles Superior Court ordered Garrett's insurers, Transamerica Insurance Co., to pay $3.9 million to Winkler. Jurors assessed total damages in the civil negligence case at $4,215,500, but subtracted 8% of that amount, or $337,240, on the grounds that Winkler contributed to his own injuries by agreeing to ride in a car with a driver who he knew was drunk. Both Garrett and Winkler admitted in court that they were drunk and had taken depressant drugs; the court heard they had each taken equal amounts of alcohol and drugs that night. The panel ordered Garrett to pay $15,000 in punitive damages, which was not diminished by Winkler's partial responsibility. Winkler's attorney, Edward Steinbrecher, attributed the relatively small punitive damage award to Garrett's testimony that his net worth was only $50,000 to $100,000.[32] In 1987, Winkler settled for $6 million with the Premier Insurance Co., which had insured the firm leasing the Porsche to Garrett's mother.[25] Garrett and Winkler were reunited in 1999 for an episode of Behind the Music, where Garrett was relieved to learn that Winkler had no bad feelings towards him and even said that Garrett's actions following the accident had actually saved his life.[citation needed][33]

Garrett was arrested for possession of cocaine in 1997.[34]

On June 29, 1999, Los Angeles police arrested Garrett in the MacArthur Park area after he allegedly tried to buy heroin and cocaine from undercover officers.[35] In March 2001, a Los Angeles judge issued a warrant for his arrest when he failed to attend court for a progress report required by his 1999 conviction.[36] Two days later, the judge lifted the warrant and dropped the 1999 charges after Garrett submitted evidence that he had completed a rehab program.[34]

In 2004, Garrett was arrested for possession of cocaine.[37] He pleaded guilty in March 2005 to attempted possession of cocaine-based narcotics and was placed on probation.[38] When he failed to appear in court in December 2005 for a status report, a warrant was issued for his arrest.[39]

On January 14, 2006, when Garrett was arrested on a Los Angeles Metro Rail platform for not having a ticket, police found heroin in his possession.[35] Because of the outstanding warrant for violating probation in a cocaine-related arrest, he was held without bail. He agreed to join a strict drug-diversion program, and his release from jail was ordered.[39]

Garrett dropped out of the rehabilitation program and was taken into custody again on March 30 after a Superior Court commissioner determined he failed several drug tests while staying in a live-in drug diversion program.[40][41] Garrett acknowledged he needed more help. On May 11, after failing to complete court-ordered drug rehabilitation, he was sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years' probation.[42] He was given credit for the jail time he had already served since March 30.[43]

On February 1, 2010, Garrett was arrested again for possession of narcotics.[35] After denying having any drugs in his possession, he finally admitted to police that he had black tar heroin in his shoe.[44] He posted $10,000 bail and was charged with a felony count of heroin possession.[45] On October 18, 2010, he pleaded no contest to heroin possession in Los Angeles and entered a court-ordered rehabilitation program.[46]



Year Album US Pop AUS[47] Record label
1977 Leif Garrett 37 2 Atlantic Records
1978 Feel the Need 34 8 Scotti Brothers Records
1979 Same Goes for You 129
1980 Can't Explain
1981 My Movie of You 185
1998 The Leif Garrett Collection Rock 'n Roll Records
2003 F8
2007 Three Sides of... Cleopatra Records


Year Title Peak chart
Record Label B-side Album
1977 "Come Back When You Grow Up" 20th Century
"Young World"
"Surfin' USA" 20 2 6 Atlantic
"Special Kind of Girl" Leif Garrett
"Runaround Sue" 13 48 8 19 "I Wanna Share a Dream with You"
1978 "Put Your Head on My Shoulder" 58 24 "Kari"
"The Wanderer" 49 "Love on the Run"
"I Was Made for Dancin'" 10 38 2 4 12 10 Scotti Brothers
"Living Without Your Love" Feel the Need
1979 "Sheila" 63 "Fun, Fun, Fun"
"Feel the Need" 57 97 38 72 43 "New York City Nights"
"When I Think of You" 78 11 "New York City Nights"
"Memorize Your Number" 60 "Moonlight Dancin'" Same Goes for You
1980 "I Was Looking for Someone to Love" 78 "Little Things You Do"
"You Had to Go and Change on Me" "Roweena" Can't Explain
"New York City Nights" 56 "I Was Made For Dancin'"
1981 "Uptown Girl" 74 "Just Like a Brother" My Movie of You
"Runaway Rita" 84 "Just Like a Brother"

Other recording appearances[edit]

Garrett has also sung on releases by the Melvins (The Crybaby), the Crush Ups ("Betty Ford for X-Mas") and Liberty n' Justice ("Sight Unseen" on Soundtrack of a Soul), among others.


Television work[edit]


  1. ^ D'Zurilla, Christie (August 19, 2013). "Leif Garrett to Justin Bieber: Been there, done that, watch out". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 9, 2023.
  2. ^ Dillon, Charlotte. "Leif Garrett Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved December 9, 2023.
  3. ^ Tanos, Lorenzo; Boone, Brian (February 21, 2023). "The Tragic Real-life Story Of Leif Garrett". Grunge. Retrieved December 9, 2023.
  4. ^ a b Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, Episode 4.7, VH1, December 29, 2010.
  5. ^ Acken, Lori (July 5, 2012). "Channel Guide interviews Leif Garrett!". Channel Guide Magazine. Channelguidemagblog.com. Retrieved December 27, 2012.
  6. ^ "An Old Pro at 17, Leif Garrett Has a Toehold on Teenage Passions – Vol. 10 No. 20". People. November 13, 1978. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  7. ^ "An Old Pro at 17, Leif Garrett Has a Toehold on Teenage Passions". People.
  8. ^ "Tatum & Kristy Come of Age". People.
  9. ^ Three for the Road at IMDb
  10. ^ "Skateboard (1977) Cast, Credits & Awards". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2015. Archived from the original on May 23, 2015.
  11. ^ "I Was Made For Dancin'". Top40DB.net.
  12. ^ "Picks and Pans Review: The Leif Garrett Special". People.
  13. ^ "Leif Garrett Arrested on the Comeback Trail". MTV. December 7, 1999. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
  14. ^ "Q&A with former teen idol Leif Garrett". CurrentInCarmel.com. July 23, 2015. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  15. ^ "Liberty n' Justice – LNJ get to know Leif Garrett". Libertynjustice.net. Archived from the original on April 13, 2012. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
  16. ^ a b "Leif Garrett". Biography.com. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  17. ^ Elzey, Susan (August 10, 2007). "Reality TV vet tries his hand at rodeo". Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved August 10, 2007.
  18. ^ "Celebrity News: Leif Garrett, Rachel Uchitel latest "Celebrity Rehab" patients". Collegenews. Retrieved September 2, 2010.
  19. ^ "TVD Radar: Leif Garrett, Idol Truth: A Memoir in stores 7/16 - The Vinyl District". December 3, 2019. Archived from the original on December 3, 2019. Retrieved September 3, 2021.
  20. ^ Nolasco, Stephanie (January 4, 2020). "Former teen idol Leif Garrett explains descent into hard drugs: 'There has always been more to my story'". Fox News. Retrieved June 29, 2021.
  21. ^ Ruggiero, Bob (January 10, 2020). "Leif Garrett: An American Idol". Houston Press. Retrieved June 29, 2021.
  22. ^ Silverman, Stephen M. (May 12, 2006). "Leif Garrett Gets 3 Months Behind Bars". People.
  23. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "WIS-TV "WIS KIDS" – Leif Garrett Interviewed by Joan Barrett (Brady)". June 15, 2011. Retrieved December 27, 2012 – via YouTube.
  24. ^ Piccalo, Gina (November 1, 2001). "Hollywood Feels Their Pain". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
  25. ^ a b "Man Gets $6 Million in Settlement of Bad-Faith Suit Against Insurer – latimes". Los Angeles Times. July 22, 1987. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
  26. ^ Kimble, Mark (January 14, 1999). "CALENDAR – Tucson Citizen Morgue, Part 2 (1993–2009)". TucsonCitizen.com. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
  27. ^ "So There You Are: Leif Garrett Talks About Life Post-Stardom and His Drug and Alcohol Addiction". ABC News. October 19, 2010. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
  28. ^ Leif Garrett Arrested. CBS News. February 3, 2010
  29. ^ Garrett, Leif Idol Truth (2019) p. 177
  30. ^ "Tragic Accident Reveals a Family's Strengths – latimes". Los Angeles Times. May 27, 1985. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
  31. ^ "A jury ruled Monday that entertainer Leif Garrett was... – UPI Archives". United Press International. December 31, 1984. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
  32. ^ "Insurers Must Pay Rock Star's Injured Passenger". Los Angeles Times. January 1, 1985. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
  33. ^ "It's a New Leif for Former Teen Idol". The Washington Post. September 27, 2002.
  34. ^ a b "Leif Garrett Drug Case Dropped, Warrant Lifted". MTV. December 3, 2001. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
  35. ^ a b c Winton, Richard (February 3, 2010). "Former teen idol Leif Garrett arrested on charge of possession of heroin". Los Angeles Times.
  36. ^ "Leif Garrett on the Lam". MTV. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
  37. ^ "Jail for former teen star Garrett". BBC. April 7, 2006. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  38. ^ "Entertainment | US star Garrett faces drug charge". BBC News. January 19, 2006. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
  39. ^ a b "Drug rehab for US actor Garrett". BBC News. January 21, 2006. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
  40. ^ "Leif Garrett leaves rehab, enters jail". Today.com. May 12, 2006. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  41. ^ "Ex-teen idol given jail term – People – Entertainment". The Sydney Morning Herald. May 12, 2006. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
  42. ^ "Leif Garrett Charged With Possession of Heroin". About.com. Archived from the original on February 5, 2012. Retrieved March 24, 2011.
  43. ^ "Leif Garrett Gets 3 Months Behind Bars". People. May 12, 2006. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  44. ^ Leif Garrett Had Black Tar Heroin in Shoe, TMZ.com. February 3, 2010
  45. ^ "Actor Garrett faces heroin charge". BBC News. February 4, 2010. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
  46. ^ "Leif Garrett Sentenced to Rehab for Heroin Possession". Fox News Channel. October 15, 2010.
  47. ^ a b Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 121. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.


  • Garrett, Leif and Epting, Chris. "Idol truth : a memoir." Post Hill Press, 2019.
  • Holmstrom, John. The Moving Picture Boy: An International Encyclopaedia from 1895 to 1995. Norwich, Michael Russell, 1996, p. 338.

External links[edit]