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Air Bud: The Rise And Fall Of A Troubled Movie Star

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The story of the talented but troubled movie star is as old as time. Or, as old as movies, I guess. The point is, we’ve seen it play out in front of us so many times that we expect it. Some stars crash and reinvent themselves (Robert Downey, Jr.) while others die out like a supernova (River Phoenix). There is one story, however, that has remained untold for more than a decade, hidden by talent agents and publicists. But after some extensive investigative journalism on my part, including interviews with close friends and finding photos and stories covered up by newspapers from the time, I finally assembled a full exposé on a family-friendly film and TV star that will rock the foundations of the entertainment world. After months of research, I present the tragic story of America’s favorite dog, Buddy.

Like many talented artists, Buddy was born into a tumultuous family life. His mother, now deceased, was a loving but kibble-addicted single mother who did her best to raise her litter on a meager salary. She worked for Yosemite National Park as a tourist greeter. Buddy soon found himself abandoned in the Sierra Nevada mountains, where he was adopted by Kevin DiCicco, an animal-loving sports enthusiast. For the next several years, Buddy lived in a happy family environment, learning all forms of athletics from Kevin, who became a true father figure for him.

Buddy was discovered by the entertainment industry early. His natural athletic ability earned him a spot on “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” which, for those who don’t remember, was a talent-feeder program for athletic animals. In a way, this program was similar to “American Idol” and singing humans. His first paid gigs were for “The Late Show With David Letterman,” a program which would gain him national acclaim. But it was his introduction to Bob Saget on AFV that would land him his first major starring role–that of Comet, the family dog on “Full House.”

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Like many George Clooneys and Jason Batemans before him, Buddy enjoyed a long and successful run as a TV star before his ascent to feature film blockbusters. It was at this time that his personal life began to take a dangerous turn. As America would later find out, several stars of the “Full House” series–in particular Bob Saget and the young Olsen twins–were notorious for their partying and drug habits. Buddy soon fell in with the motley crew of actors and writers from the show, who would habitually meet in a back room to do cocaine before tapings. He was often seen off set in many bars on the arm of the booze-happy, 5-year-old Olsen twins. What the cameras never saw was Buddy’s trips to the restrooms of these establishments, where he enjoyed a fair amount of catnip, an “upper” narcotic usually found in drug dens frequented by felines.

However, Buddy’s natural talent and charisma carried him through these times, and the public was none-the-wiser. To middle America, Buddy was still the playful pup who hilariously frustrated Uncle Jesse with his stubbornness about learning tricks in spite of being able to do them at any time with ease.

After his run on “Full House” ended, he could have gone the way that so many sitcom stars did and try to find himself a new role on a television comedy. That would have afforded him another seven years of stable paychecks. But Buddy had other plans. He had always dreamed of playing the leading dog in a feature film, something even the most successful dog actors before him had been unable to do. But Buddy’s tenacity and charm in the conference room led him to convincing studio executives to take a chance on him. His role in “Air Bud” came about quite fortuitously. A movie about an unlikely athlete making friends with a young boy, “Air Bud” was initially written as a starring vehicle for Gary Coleman. However, Gary’s poor attitude toward the film’s producers, combined with his laziness preparing for the athletic demands of the role, led to him being dropped by the studio.

In need of a lead actor, the studio initially targeted other charismatic stars, including Michael Jordan, who was fresh off the success of “Space Jam.” However, they ultimately realized that casting Jordan as a someone who would surprise an audience with basketball skills might prove a feat too difficult. It was at this point that Buddy was brought on board. The rest is history. “Air Bud” went on recoup its budget seven times over, and Buddy once again captured the hearts of the American audience, now as a proven feature film star.

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It was during the development of “Air Bud: Golden Receiver” that Buddy began to show outward signs of the party lifestyle he had succumbed to. After a brief period of sobriety, Buddy fell off the wagon, both physically and emotionally. His contract demands for the sequel became wildly extravagant, including three trailers for himself on set, a mandatory amount of premium Purina dog food at specific times, and small parts in the movie to be set aside for his female companions he referred to as “Buddy’s Bitches.” Producers were initially uncomfortable with this moniker before Buddy’s agents reminded him that “bitch” was, in fact, an acceptable term for female dogs. Regardless, Buddy had begun to crack.

As we now know, the production process of “Golden Receiver” became problematic. Constant budget overruns, as well as Buddy’s demand to have final cut privileges on editing, ultimately led to Disney dumping it on home video, thus effectively killing the franchise as a tentpole series.

Buddy’s career tanked afterward. Still considering himself a movie star, he turned down dozens of offers for comedy pilots. However, his reputation from the fiasco of “Golden Receiver” left most in Hollywood unwilling to work with him. Other than occasional guest spots on unknown UPN shows, Buddy’s acting work slowly crawled to a halt. It was not long after this that his catnip addiction caught up to him physically. He contracted synovial cell sarcoma, a form of cancer that–unknown to veterinarians at the time–afflicts exclusively canines who ingest too much catnip. Buddy later succumbed to his disease, and several years later, synovial cell sarcoma was the focus of a Congressional ban on catnip for dogs, much like how the Coogan Act safeguards child actors from being exploited by their parents.

At this point, we are only left with the inevitable questions. What would Buddy’s life have been like if he’d managed to curb his addiction? By losing him so soon, what movies were we, as a viewing audience, ultimately robbed of? The answer, of course, is that we don’t know–but the cautionary tale of Buddy can do some good. My hope with this piece is not to tarnish the image of a deceased actor, but to serve as a reminder to all dog owners whose animals have aspirations of silver screen greatness. Let your puppy explore his love for entertainment, but above all, try to keep him on a leash (both literally and figuratively). If we remember the story of Buddy, perhaps we can prevent his tragedy from playing out with another beloved national pet.

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Randall J. Knox

Randall J. Knox (known colloquially to his friends as "Knox") left his native Texas a few years ago, and moved to Los Angeles in his '03 Buick Regal named LeRoi to write movies with his jackass college buddies. His favorite things in life include bourbon that's above his pay grade, mix CDs, and Kevin Costner films. He isn't sure what "dad jeans" are exactly, but he knows he wants a pair.

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