Starring in a hit sitcom in your teens has become something of a pop-culture curse — see cast members of Diff’rent Strokes and The Partridge Family. Now add Family Ties to the list. ”Let’s just say I definitely hit bottom,” Justine Bateman says of her prospects after the 1982-89 sitcom left the air. While costar Michael J. Fox raced back to the future, Bateman’s career — and her life — hit a major slump. ”I realized I was an anorexic, a bulimic, and a compulsive overeater,” says Bateman, 30. While shooting Family Ties, she recalls, she would sometimes rush off the set. ”If I’d just eaten,” she says, ”I’d have to go throw up.”
But three years ago, as she describes it, ”the elevator went to the basement,” and Bateman — who these days is hoping for a Nielsen comeback as what she calls the ”extremely forgiving” girlfriend of a guy’s guy in NBC’s new Men Behaving Badly — got herself into a 12-step program to deal with her eating disorders. That led to another calling. ”I needed a concept of God that worked for me,” she says, ”and I wound up giving my life to Jesus Christ.” The actress did have reservations, though. ”I thought I was always going to have to wear skirts over my knees, not be able to listen to music, and have no personality,” she admits. ”Fortunately, it’s so completely opposite.”
But even religion couldn’t offer complete salvation. Work-wise, when not making straight-to-video bombs opposite Judd Nelson, she was hosting the grand opening for Disney’s Captain EO attraction. And Hollywood living proved more than a bit surreal. She dated both Leif Garrett (”He was a great guy, but I have no idea what happened to him”) and Billy Idol (”He was really very polite”). She also got pegged as the girl in the infamous Roman Polanski statutory-rape case (”I’ve never even met him, but at the time I thought, if any rumor could be flying around you, this is at least a really interesting one”).
To maintain some perspective, Bateman would write poetry and began doing performance art at the Viper Room and other houses of Hollywood hipness. ”I always wanted to do things that moved people somehow, made them think,” she says. ”When I got Family Ties, I wasn’t even thinking about being an actress. I thought I might become a window dresser.” She adds: ”I didn’t want to do things that were just sort of normal.” ”Normal” certainly wouldn’t describe becoming an actress, or this example of her poetry: ”All the tinsel’s melting down the tree/ The bulbs explode in prickly sparks/ Melting, melting, silvery mess/ Pouring over boughs/ Dripping off the end/ A tiny Santa head is covered and stuck like a dog in Pompeii.”
Last season, Bateman returned for the first time to series television, guest-starring as an alien princess betrothed to Superman in Lois & Clark. And now, with Men, she’s busier and happier than she’s been in years. ”Let’s just say I found the highest high by hitting the lowest low,” she says. ”I’ve actually become the person I always wanted to become, although not in the way I thought it would happen.”