Actress Amanda Peterson passed away on July 5 in her Greeley, CO hometown. Best known for her starring role alongside Patrick Dempsey in the 1980s movie, Can’t Buy Me Love, Peterson had been talking about a comeback in recent weeks, according to her friends and family, and had started work on an autobiography.
Back in the 1980s, Peterson was the spitting image of what every girl wanted to be and who every guy wanted to date. She had been hoping to get back some of the former glory after years of trouble with drugs and health issues.
“I talked to her about setting up a website, getting a blog going,” said photographer Ryan Hartsock, a friend whose 2012 photos of Peterson appeared in international news outlets after her death.
“She wanted to do a photo shoot, start blogging, start a fan page,” said childhood friend Tawnya Bowie, a hairstylist. “She said, ‘I want to give back to the community, open an acting studio, help grow self-esteem for young kids.'”
Her July 5 death left friends and family shocked. Police were called to her apartment after she had missed a family dinner. The door was unlocked, and when police entered, they found her body.
Her loved ones say she always struggled to bridge her two lives– Hollywood and Colorado. To cope, Peterson had turned to drugs, was arrested multiple times, and she was always trying to find a better way to live. Friends say she never talked much about her Hollywood life at all.
“We’ve come to peace with it because we know she’s had a difficult life,” her father, James H. Peterson, said. “She’s had issues. It is a blessing she is now at peace.”
Peterson’s death is currently under investigation by local authorities; the autopsy report hasn’t been released and the toxicology report will likely take another week. Her father said that although his daughter had a history of drugs, she was “working diligently on her health.”
He also added that his daughter’s spiral into drug use illustrates the plight of young actors destroyed by Hollywood’s lights and fame. Peterson had recently turned to religion to try to find a new life for herself, and get away from her former issues.
In addition to drug use, the former actress had a DUI arrest in 2000, a felony charge for drug possession in 2005, another felony for drug distribution in 2005, child abuse and another DUI charge in 2012, and third-degree assault after a fight in 2010. Peterson had also gone through two divorces and had been on disability for three years.
“Many teen stars start working before they have the skill set to understand their situation,” said Howard Bragman, vice chairman of Reputation.com and a longtime PR expert based in Los Angeles. “It’s hard to get a sense of normalcy that a traditional upbringing offers. Add to that lots of money, lots of enablers and unlimited opportunity to stray, and it’s hardly surprising that many youthful stars veer out of control.”
James Peterson says her death marks the end of a troubled life marred by Hollywood, drugs, and health issues. The most obstructive of those was sleep apnea, which affects some 18 million Americans. Sleep apnea can not only interfere with daily life, but it can lead to other health issues when left untreated.
When news of her passing spread online, many of her old co-stars — most notably, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Patrick Dempsey — posted their condolences and memories.
“When I was younger, I used to want to be #AmandaPeterson,” said Gellar, the former “Buffy” star. “I even asked my mom for a white leather fringe jacket #RipAmandaPeterson.”
Also posting on social media, her 1980s co-star Dempsey tweeted, “In my memory, she will always be vibrant and young. Gone too soon. Sending my thoughts and prayers to Amanda’s family.”