No. 6: Lindsay Lohan

Hollywood has too many stories of promising child actors who sank into a haze of addiction and anonymity.

Lindsay Lohan hasn’t had the luxury of neglect. An inexhaustible celebrity-news cycle and her own self-promotion have kept her in the public eye. While attention hasn’t lessened, patience may have: Last year, a spate of headlines focused on her downfall, and continual online searches landed the star on the Obsessions list. This year, courtroom dramas, parental dysfunction, and that elusive comeback landed Lohan in the Top 10 Searches.

This year started off promisingly, as Lohan wrapped up a 90-day rehab treatment at Rancho Mirage. She packed in three truisms in one New Year’s tweet: “Today is the first day of the rest of my life ‘The future depends on what we do in the present.’ -Mahatma Gandhi…One step at a time….” About a month later, Los Angeles prosecutors filed a felony grand theft charge against her for swiping a $2,500 necklace from L.A. boutique Kamofie & Company. Her defense — that it was a loan — seemed less important than the “skin-tight, Kimberly Ovitz-designed ‘Glavis Albino’ minidress” she wore to court. (Then again, the uproar gave her a platform from which to describe the front-page attention to her clothes as “absurd.”) The $35,000 that the jewelry store received for selling the surveillance tape cast doubt on the case, but Lohan was sentenced to house arrest.

Comeback deadline
How much patience could Lohan followers have with her comeback? One go-to example is Robert Downey Jr., the poster child for recovering talent. He dominated the ’80s and ’90s, a leader among a coterie of actors that included the late River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, and Brad Pitt, before being out of commission for five years. Downey, who has always had a way with words, used frightening ones to describe his addiction to a judge, back in 1999: “It’s like I have a shotgun in my mouth, and I’ve got my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gunmetal.” The plea didn’t sway the judge, who ordered him to serve prison time. He returned, relapsed, was championed by Mel Gibson, and is now back to ruling the box office.

Lohan’s curriculum vitae doesn’t quite compare to Downey’s pre-arrest output, and 2011 marks five years since her first DUI arrest (following her parents’ divorce). There have been signs of a comeback: self-parody, talk of proving herself, a standing ovation on “The Tonight Show,” talk of accountability, an artsy ad, court settlements, and an overseas modeling gig.

In an it-could-go-either-way decision, the 25-year-old signed up for a Playboy photo shoot and interview for the magazine’s January/February 2012 issue. Her mother assured the fans that it “went well” before her daughter’s rep had a chance to gush that it was “fantastic.”

Waiting for the turning point
But the year has had too many rumors of rejections (no “Superman” villain role) or wobbly deals (John Gotti biopic), a rehab assault lawsuit, self-comparisons to Marilyn Monroe, her community-service absenteeism, her frequent-flier status at the Los Angeles courthouse. Her parents didn’t help, either, from her troubled father’s public frets about the condition of his daughter’s teeth (proof that she was smoking meth or crack, he worried) to her mother’s memoir, which dished about her daughter’s substance abuse.

Unlike Britney Spears, whose father seemed responsible enough to take conservatorship, Lohan doesn’t appear to have that kind of familial recourse. In a year that focused a lot on motherhood extremes — tiger moms, stage moms (like Kim Kardashian’s mother, Kris Jenner), and the infamous Casey Anthony — Lohan exemplifies how a brilliant, promising child can spin out of control. Lohan’s plenty old enough to take care of herself, but in many ways she’s still that Disney child star who needs the wise adult and maybe a magical car to yank her back onto the right path.

The Yahoo! Year in Review editorial lead for five years running, Vera H-C Chan dissects news events, pop-culture idiosyncrasies, and online behavior to probe the “why” behind what’s hot online. On Yahoo!, her articles can be found in News, TV, Movies, and her Shine blog Fast-Talking Dame. Across the Net, there are remnants of contributions to a cultural travel guide, martial arts encyclopedia, movie criticism, business profiles, and A&E/features reporting.