Plucked from obscurity to become a star, things looked bright for Edward Furlong as a 13-year-old. But although Furlong received acclaim for his part in the 1991 smash Terminator 2: Judgment Day, his career would hit the skids. And, sadly, the once-rising star would see his talents largely wasted in the years that followed.
There had always been darkness in Furlong’s life, however. For starters, his mother had struggled to cope with raising her child, and instead she permitted him to live with relatives as a teen. As a result, then, Furlong may have lacked the bedrock that he would need to cope with a life in the limelight – which is precisely where his starring role as John Connor catapulted him to.
A native of Glendale in California, Furlong had no idea who his dad was. And after his mom found herself floundering, she ceded her guardianship of her son to her sister, Nancy Tafoya, and half-brother Sean Furlong. The pair would manage Furlong’s career, too, after he had started acting.
The arrangement was far from straightforward, though; in fact, there would be be a custody battle over Furlong. Nor would this be the last legal action that the actor would be part of, as later in his teen years, he’d fight to be emancipated – ultimately successfully. Then a casting director called the aspiring star, and his life changed forever more.
Furlong was spotted by Mali Finn – who was casting for the second Terminator film – outside of the Pasadena Boys Club in the fall of 1990. Finn was taken with the youngster straight away, and since he was looking for a boy to play John Connor, he was interested in hiring Furlong, whose talent he quickly recognized.
Then, when the sci-fi blockbuster Terminator 2: Judgment Day saw the light of day in 1991, Furlong found himself thrown into the limelight. What’s more, his first acting role – in which he famously starred alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger – gained him a great deal of praise. Among the bouquets, he would gain the MTV Movie Award for Best Breakthrough Performance.
It was no surprise that Furlong drew attention, either, as at that time Terminator 2: Judgment Day’s $102 million budget made it the most expensive film made to date. Fortunately, writer-director James Cameron’s follow-up to the 1984 classic The Terminator caught the public’s imagination.
The film was a huge hit, in fact, winning a host of laudatory reviews and taking more at the box office than any other movie that year. Critics considered it an improvement on the first Terminator, while its groundbreaking technical aspects garnered several Oscars.
To this day, Terminator 2: Judgment Day is rated highly, with website Rotten Tomatoes summing up the critical consensus by saying, “T2 features thrilling action sequences and eye-popping visual effects, but what takes this sci-fi/action landmark to the next level is the depth of the human (and cyborg) characters.” Audiences loved it, too, granting it a very rare A+ rating on website CinemaScore.
It’s thought that nearly 49 million of those fans bought tickets for the movie in North America alone. And altogether, Terminator 2: Judgment Day brought in $517 million – a massive amount of money that was bettered only by Star Wars and ET: The Extra-Terrestrial at the time.
Just after he’d signed Furlong for the film, though, Cameron phoned Edward’s uncle Sean and asked, “Do you guys know what you’re getting into?” The question could well have been asked the other way around, as when the film was shooting a fight was raging over who would have custody of Furlong.
B.J. Rack, a producer on the film, told Entertainment Weekly in 1994, “It was extremely upsetting to Edward. Here was this kid who had never been on a movie set [being] subjected to five months of the most high-profile experience one could imagine then not knowing who his legal guardians were. But he was okay. I was amazed at his ability to put it behind him and perform.”
After this auspicious start to his career, Furlong could work with the very best, and his work continued to be noticed. In 1992 he took a part in American Heart with Jeff Bridges in 1992, and his performance would ultimately earn him a nomination for an IFP Spirit award.
From there, Furlong would gain a nomination for a Saturn Award again – this time for Pet Sematary Two. However, the 1992 horror movie was poorly received. It grossed only $17 million – less than a third than the original Pet Sematary – and suffered the ignominy of having writer Stephen King ensure that his name wasn’t associated with it.
Yet the movie’s poor performance didn’t seem to hurt Furlong, who scooped a Young Artist Award for his next star appearance in A Home of Our Own. During the filming, Jackie Domac, who had once been Furlong’s stand-in, arrived to work as his teacher. After doubts were raised about her professionalism, however, she was let go from the production.
But that wasn’t the last heard from Domac, who turned up on the set of Furlong’s next film: 1994’s Little Odessa. Director James Gray had nothing but praise for the young star, telling Entertainment Weekly, “It was a delight to work with him. He was always emotionally present. I think he’s a very accomplished actor. And, in many ways, he was the most cooperative actor in the picture.”
Gray was also impressed by Furlong’s strength of character. “His role was that of someone from a troubled, broken family, and in many ways he used his background to his advantage and funnelled his personal tumult into the role,” said the director. “At 16, he’s been forced into adulthood, and he’s handling it better than I would have.”
Perhaps Furlong’s appearance of maturity was the result of his relationship with Domac. There was talk that he now introduced her as his girlfriend, although at 29 she was more than a dozen years his senior. “I had my doubts at first,” Gray admitted, “but I think she’s good for him. She’s a stabilizing force, and she cares for the guy. After a while, who can quibble with that?”
But although Domac would become both Furlong’s manager and fiancée, things did not ultimately work out. Her management of his career lacked direction, and both personal and professional relationships began to break down. By 1999 Domac was even pursuing Furlong in the courts for money. Perhaps most disturbingly of all, though, she also accused the actor of abuse.
Domac herself was taken to court by Edward’s uncle, Sean. In 1994, you see, California had recently changed its law on statutory rape to allow women who have sex with children to be prosecuted. However, the police talked to Furlong, and because he had no complaint to make, they didn’t pursue Sean’s case.
Furlong then played the lead in 1994’s sci-fi horror Brainscan, earning a huge payday. That experience was soured, however, by on-set fights with Tafoya. His aunt proved to be very vocal about informing Furlong of her disapproval of the time that he wanted to spend with Domac. One fight ended with Furlong punching a hole in his trailer’s ceiling.
By 1998, then, the now-emancipated Furlong was ready for a change, and it came in the form of John Waters’ comedy Pecker. It also marked a change for Waters, with one review suggesting that it was his “first stab at making a mainstream movie.” Critics were not particularly enthusiastic about the film, and it bombed at the box office.
Furlong recognized that the role of Pecker had been something of a departure for him, saying, “It’s true [that] most of the characters that I’ve played so far are kind of like suicidal. Really dark roles, which I like. But I wanted to do something different, and John gave me a chance to do that.”
In a career that had seen its ups and downs, Furlong’s next big film was an encouraging sign. He received fresh acclaim as Edward Norton’s younger brother in the critically lauded American History X. Furlong gained a nomination for a Young Artist Award, although he was somewhat overshadowed by Norton, who was up for an Oscar.
And Furlong was still fairly hot property in 1999 when he was chosen for Detroit Rock City – a coming-of-age movie about Kiss fans that featured four teens trying to get to see their heroes. Now separated from Domac, Furlong would date his co-star Natasha Lyonne, who would later go on to star as Nicky in Orange Is the New Black.
However, Furlong would soon find his career on the slide. He had been slated to appear as John Connor once more in the third Terminator film, but stories that had started to precede Furlong reached the producers, and they recast the part with Nick Stahl.
Those stories concerned drug use. Indeed, Furlong told People magazine in 2006, “I was a heroin and cocaine addict. It was really scary.” In October 2000, then, the star checked himself into rehab in an effort to get clean – although it appears that his struggle with substance abuse is still ongoing.
Of course, drug use is hardly uncommon in Hollywood, and a teen suddenly exposed to fame will be tempted. Ironically, the actor who replaced Furlong as John Connor, Nick Stahl, had substance abuse issues of his own, with reports that he too had checked himself into rehab in 2012.
In 2001, though, Furlong’s exploits were making the news. He ended up in a hospital in April after overdosing on a big night out with Lyonne and Paris Hilton. Then, in September, he was in hot water with police twice in the space of four hours. On the first occasion, he was apprehended for driving without a license, then later the same evening he was picked up on a DUI after a car accident.
Things did improve a little for Furlong in 2003 when the call came to star in The Crow: Wicked Prayer – the fourth in the series. However, when both critics and viewers slammed the film on its limited release, expectations were greatly reduced. The movie ended up being consigned to DVD in 2005.
Then, in the fall of 2004, Furlong was back in the news with another arrest. This time, it seems that the star attempted to “liberate” some lobsters from their tank in a Kentucky store. And while Furlong tried to argue that it was all just for fun, that made matters worse. Ultimately, the police booked him for public drunkenness.
More ups and downs followed in the romance stakes, as Furlong met and, in April 2006, married actress Rachael Kneeland, who works under the name Rachael Bella. Together, the couple also had a boy, whom they called Ethan. But the relationship ultimately went downhill, and an alleged incident in which Furlong punched Kneeland ended in a restraining order and a trip to a psychiatric facility.
In 2010 Furlong even received a court order to keep away from Kneeland. This followed her reportedly receiving scary voicemail messages that threatened to get someone to beat her and her boyfriend “with chains and bats.” A few months later, then, Furlong found himself in court, where his domestic violence charge resulted in probation after he pleaded no contest.
The news got slightly better for the faded star as he landed a part in The Green Hornet. But the day after his red-carpet appearance at the film’s premiere, Furlong found himself in hot water with the law again. He had breached the restraining order, and the result was a short spell in jail.
And the troubled actor went back to prison in summer 2013. Furlong received 61 days in jail after another domestic violence rap, leaving him facing the possibility of an even longer sentence. However, he managed to agree to 90 days’ rehab and a year of counseling for his continuing domestic abuse problems.
What’s more, Furlong kept on appearing on film and on TV despite his many issues. Indeed, throughout the 21st century, there are few breaks in his working history. Even if he didn’t fulfil his early promise, he still turned up in such projects as CSI: NY on TV and Star Trek: Renegades on YouTube.
Finally, it seemed that Furlong would be John Connor again. In July 2019, you see, Cameron announced that the actor would appear in the next Terminator movie, with Furlong himself confirming those reports. Those who haven’t seen the film may want to stop reading, though, as spoilers follow.
In Terminator: Dark Fate, Sarah and John Connor relax on a beach with their troubles seemingly behind them. However, a Terminator turns up and finally ends the John Connor story. John is only a little older than he was in the second film, though, while Furlong has aged, so only his – youthful – face appears, grafted on to a body double by CGI.
In some films, actors who play much younger versions of themselves are digitally “de-aged.” Furlong was in his 40s at the time of shooting, though, and so he’d have a hard time passing as his teen self. As a result, then, the body double approach was chosen. The same technology was utilized for Linda Hamilton, who plays John’s mom.
So, all in all, it’s been a difficult road for Furlong, and his life in the spotlight has made the words of director Tony Bill seem somewhat prophetic. Writing to Furlong’s agent in 1993, Bill explained, “Eddie Furlong didn’t choose the movies, the movies chose him – and it has taken a heavy toll.” And little more than a year later, Bill would tell Entertainment Weekly, “In 30 years, I’ve never worked with a kid who was so clearly on a path to disaster.”